What You Need to Know About The Legal Drinking Age in Puerto Rico

Data from national roadside surveys reveal a decline in driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in the United States. The proportion of drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 g/dL or higher decreased significantly from 7.5% in 1973 to 1.5% in 2013-2014. However, the situation in Puerto Rico remains unclear as trend data is not readily available. Nevertheless, DUI arrest rates can shed some light on the issue. In 2012, Puerto Rico had a DUI arrest rate of 221.6 per 100,000 population, which was considerably lower than the United States’ rate of 406.4 per 100,000 population.

While arrest rates can provide insights, they are influenced by various factors such as existing DUI laws, law enforcement, and drinking behavior. Comparing Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland, there are notable differences regarding DUI-related laws. In Puerto Rico, the legal drinking age is 18, and for individuals aged 18-20, the BAC limit is set at .02 g/dL. In contrast, the legal drinking age in the U.S. mainland is 21, and for 18-20-year-old drivers, the BAC must be zero.

Despite the significance of DUI as a public health concern, Puerto Rico has received limited attention from the U.S. federal government in terms of research on substance use effects. The lack of updated DUI data is surprising and unfortunate. Puerto Rico has not been included in SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health or the NIAAA’s national surveys. While Puerto Rico does participate in the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the special questionnaire module covering drinking and driving has not been utilized.

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To address this lack of information, a study was conducted in San Juan, Puerto Rico to examine self-reported DUI rates, DUI arrest rates, and lifetime DUI arrest rates. The study also explored the attitudes, knowledge of DUI laws, and sociodemographic correlates of DUI. The hypotheses tested were as follows: individuals who self-report DUI will be less likely to view DUI as a problem and have lower knowledge of DUI laws. Additionally, factors such as hours of driving per day, gender, age, drinking norms, attitudes towards drinking, illicit drug use, income, employment status, and workforce participation were examined as potential correlates of DUI.

Understanding the attitudes and knowledge surrounding DUI allows policymakers to gauge the recognition of this issue within the community and the receptiveness to potential interventions. Identifying sociodemographic correlates of DUI can help target prevention and intervention efforts towards at-risk population subgroups, leading to more effective prevention strategies in San Juan, and potentially, Puerto Rico as a whole.

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