WASHINGTON, D.C. --- A proposal to reconsider the legal drinking age of 21 has touched off a wave of criticism from health, safety and transportation advocacy groups and government officials.

The criticism follows the release of a statement by more than 100 college and university presidents calling for a new public debate on the age at which Americans can legally buy and consume alcohol, the Baltimore Sun reported. The educators contend that the higher drinking age has driven alcohol consumption underground and contributed to a campus culture that encourages "binge drinking."

The Governors Highway Safety Association, the National Transportation Safety Board, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving are among the groups that have denounced the administrators' statement.

"Both research and the hands-on experience of state highway safety agencies indicate that this law has saved countless lives," said Christopher J. Murphy, chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association. "Underage drinking remains a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but lowering the drinking age would be a gigantic step backward for highway safety."

MADD sent out a list of the college presidents who signed the statement, urging its supporters to express their opposition, the Baltimore Sun reported.