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December 14, 1982, Page 00001Buy Reprints The New York Times Archives

The New Jersey Assembly gave final legislative approval tonight to a bill raising the legal drinking age from 19 to 21, effective Jan. 1. Governor Kean has said he would sign the bill, which passed on a vote of 48 to 26, seven more than needed.

The higher legal drinking age will not affect those who will be 19 years old by Jan. 1. Sponsors of the new law believe it should not take away a right that those now 19 or 20 years old already enjoy.

Both New York and Connecticut raised their drinking age to 19 from 18 earlier this year. In the past, when the drinking age differed in the three states, people too young to get liquor in their own state frequently crossed into the neighboring states to take advantage of the lower drinking age.

New Jersey abandoned the 21-year standard in 1973, reducing the drinking age to 18, the same as in New York at that time. New Jersey raised the legal age to 19 in 1979. Connecticut went to 19 from 18 last July 1 and New York followed on Dec. 4. Change Designed to Save Lives

Assemblyman Martin A. Herman, Democrat of Woodbury, who moved the bill in its final debate, said he was convinced after participating in public hearings across the state that raising the drinking age would save 40 lives a year and reduce juvenile crime in the state.

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With Attorney General Irwin I. Kimmelman and the State Police Superintendent, Col. Clinton L. Pagano Sr., sitting beside him, Mr. Herman said: ''The eyes and ears of the nation are literally on the State of New Jersey this evening. The President of the United States has announced his belief that all states should go to 21 because of the issues involved.''

The debate attracted hundreds of people to the halls of the Legislature, with students and dozens of tavern and restaurant owners wearing buttons that said ''19 is enough'' and members of education and church-affiliated organizations wearing ''21 now'' buttons.

An attempt to amend the bill on the floor this evening to delay its effect until New York raised its legal age to 21 was defeated. Mr. Herman said that it had been argued during the years of the Vietnam War that ''if a young man was old enough to fight he was old enough to drink.'' But he added, ''It's time we vote to restore some balance and sensitivity to the issue.''

Using a chart prepared by the state police, Mr. Herman argued that the incidence of driving while drinking among the 18- to-21-year-old age group ''rose astronomically'' after the drinking age was lowered to 18, despite arguments at the time that removing the temptation for drivers in that age group to go to New York to drink would prove a boon to highway safety.

''The statistics indicate there would be 300 more young drivers in this state alive today if they didn't have easy access to alcohol,'' he said.

Mr. Herman said 46,000 teen-agers in New Jersey were believed to have drinking problems, and he called that ''an obscene statistic.'' He said lowering the legal age to 18 had had a ''trickle-down'' effect of encouraging illegal drinking among 17 and 16-year-olds. ''We won't stop all illegal drinking among teen-agers by raising the drinking age, but we will change the peer group and limit the abuse,'' he said.

Assemblyman Dennis L. Riley, Democrat of Blackwood, opposed changing the legal age, saying that backers of the move were using young adults as ''scapegoats for an extremely serious societal problem - drunk driving.'' He challenged the figures offered by Mr. Herman, saying that during the period when alcohol-related deaths showed a decline, ostensibly because of the higher drinking age, ''many of our young males weren't here to participate in the figures - they were off fighting a war.''

Mr. Riley said the statistics did not include the number of New Jersey youngsters who were killed in New York driving to or from a tavern. 'Legal Hypocrisy'

He said it was ''legal hypocrisy'' to say that an 18-year-old was responsible enough to sign a contract, own a home, serve on a jury and condemn someone under the state's new capital punishment law, gamble and even own a tavern, but not responsible enough to take a drink. ''At 16 a teen-ager can appear in a pornographic movie, and at 17 can get married,'' Mr. Riley said. ''But he or she is not responsible enough to drink a beer.''

Mr. Riley said anyone who did not believe youngsters would travel to New York to drink ''is forgetting his own past.'' He asked, ''Isn't it much safer to keep our college kids on campus, having a beer in the student lounge instead of sending them to Greenwood Lake or Staten Island?''

Assemblyman Walter M. D. Kern Jr., Republican of Ridgewood, opposed raising the drinking standard. ''I visited Greenwood Lake this summer,'' he said, ''and saw 24 former liquor establishments that have gone out of business. If you enact this change, they will reopen in no time.'' Mr. Kern, who said statistics indicated New Jersey teen-agers have fewer arrests for driving while drunk than older age groups, said he found a pancake house, a used car lot and an electrical company on the sites of some of the drinking places that used to cater to teen-agers years ago in Greenwood Lake, N.Y., just across the Bergen County line.

Carl Golden, Mr. Kean's press secretary, said the Governor was expected to sign the bill in time for it to take effect on Jan. 1. The only step remaining was a review by the Governor's counsel's office to make sure the bill contained no technical flaws.

In another development, the Assembly Judiciary Committee released a list of recommended legislative steps to penalize those who drive while drunk, including the imposition of mandatory jail sentences, on-the-spot license revocations and increased fines, which would be used pay victims of alcohol-related accidents.

In addition, a number of bills on drinking and driving prepared by Mr. Kean's staff were introduced in both houses of the Legislature.The bills would extend the state's implied consent law to require motorists to submit to blood and urine tests for alcohol, in addition to the current breath tests. They would also set up an enforcement fund to provide grants to local police departments to finance increased highway patrols and provide for immediate license suspension of repeat offenders. ---- Reagan For Tougher Laws

WASHINGTON, Dec 13, (Reuters) -A Presidential commission today called for tougher state and local laws to reduce what it called carnage on the highways caused by Americans who drive while drunk or under the influence of drugs.

President Reagan said he agreed and told the commission the Federal Government would study possible ways to finance programs to get drivers who drink off the roads.

Recommendations by the commission, which was headed by John Volpe, a former Massachusetts Governor and Transportation Secretary, included raising the drinking age to 21; having more-stringent penalties, with mandatory sentences for first offenses for driving while under the influence of liquor or drugs, and providing Federal help for educational programs run by state and local authorities.

The commission presented its report at a White House ceremony at which Mr. Reagan signed a proclamation designating this week as National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week.

Mr. Reagan said that half of the annual average of 55,000 highway deaths were caused by alcohol-related accidents, and that 700,000 people were injured in such accidents.

He urged Americans to use their seat belts, saying this was the best safety measure an individual could take to reduce the risk of death or injury.

''For too many years, people have approached the problem of drunken driving as an unavoidable disaster, like hurricanes or floods,'' he said.

''Action can be taken when the people are concerned enough, and the people are not only concerned now, they're mad. They want the slaughter on the highways to stop.''

Mr. Volpe said alcohol-related highway accidents were the main cause of death for Americans under the age of 44. ''We must reduce the carnage,'' he said.

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