Your article Tuesday on the Cambridge / MIT program made me think it was worth writing this letter. Having lived in the UK for a few years, I was surprised to see how surprised the MIT undergraduates are that you can have a drinking culture without death. I forgot how naive Americans can be. Not to sound like gun ads I don't agree with, but drinking doesn't cause death unless it's accompanied with selfishness.
The reason the drinking age in most US states is currently 21 instead of 18 is because of drunk driving. In the UK, driving under the influence isn't just frowned on, it's about as disgusting and inconceivable as urinating in your own living room. And this isn't just for "educated" people. After 10pm in Edinburgh, Scotland, there are almost no private cars on the roads. Everyone on a date is in a taxi (a fundamental cost of dating!) and everyone else is walking. On weekend nights, the streets are full of people talking and laughing, often in the middle of the road.
This doesn't only apply to cities. Every little town has two or three people who are "taxi drivers" --- usually older married guys who you can always call at home. Everyone who runs a pub knows their names and numbers. Getting a taxi ride for miles isn't that unusual, even if it means having to go back and get your car the next morning. It's just a stupidity tax on poor planning.
Every since I went to college (in the US) I've heard people say that Americans can't drink because they start too late, so they don't know how to handle it, or they still find drinking a lot exciting. This is rubbish. The British drink until they are falling over all the time, and all their experience does for them is make it take more beer. The only good advice I ever got about drinking in Scotland was never to do it alone. The real differerence in fatalities is whether you would think about risking people's lives by operating a car, and whether you would care more about your lifestyle or academic record than about getting someone poisoned to a hospital.