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    ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ Raising New York’s drinking age from 19 to 21, starting Sunday, should make roads safer by cutting down on drunken driving, state officials say, but they admit Washington’s threat to withhold $90 million in highway funds also was a consideration.

    College students are grousing about the new law, but some say they expect to keep on drinking anyway.

    New York joins 31 other states in the nation that already have a minimum drinking age of 21. Another five states have approved legislation to raise their drinking ages to 21 sometime next year. New York’s drinking age was raised from 18 to 19 in 1982.


    Colleges across the state are revising rules to reflect the new drinking age, to the dismay of many students. A proposal at the State University of New York at Albany to ban all beer kegs from dormitories met with a student petition drive and a mass call-in to the president and vice president that tied up office telephone lines.

    Unlike states such as Alabama and Arizona, New York’s law doesn’t have a ″grandfather″ clause that would preserve the right to purchase alcoholic beverages for those who are already 19 and 20.

    To prevent young men and women from losing jobs in restaurants and taverns, however, the law permits 18-year-olds to serve alcoholic beverages on the job.

    Anyone under 21 who attempts to purchase an alcoholic beverage through fraudulent means is subject to fines of $100 and a year’s probation. Those 21 or older who buy booze for underage drinkers face fines up to $500 and 90 days in jail. Bars, restaurants and clubs may lose their liquor licenses if they are caught serving minors.

    Student leaders opposed the law, arguing it unfairly punishes the majority of 19- and 20-year-olds who don’t drive when they are drunk.

    ″Nineteen and 20-year-olds are not likely to alter their alcohol consumption or drinking behavior regardless of the status of the purchase age,″ said Jane McAlevey, president of the Student Association of the State University of New York. ″The only thing that will change is the way in which they will obtain alcohol.″

    Proponents say the law will prevent 2,300 highway deaths and injuries over the next two years, save millions of dollars in health care and property damage costs and significantly reduce teen-age alcohol abuse.

    State officials say they saw definite benefits from raising the drinking age to 19.

    According to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 2,584 injuries or deaths from accidents in 1981 involving 16-, 17-and 18-year-old drivers who had too much to drink. Three years later, there were 1,551 injuries or deaths from accidents involving the same age group.

    Nineteen and 20-year-olds represent about 4 percent of New York’s licensed drivers, but drivers from that age group are involved in 12.4 percent of alcohol-related accidents resulting in injuries or death, said William Stevens, a spokesman for the state Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.

    While saving lives was a major consideration, so was a federal law that threatens to withhold highway aid to states that don’t put a minimum purchase age of 21 on their books.

    ″I am prepared to pay the blackmail,″ said the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat, Assembly Speaker Stanley Fink. ″I don’t like it, but I’m doing it.″