A bill to raise Maryland's legal drinking age to 21 advanced today toward expected final approval next week despite fears of some senators that it would increase the highway deaths by encouraging young people to drive to areas, including the District, where the drinking age remains 18.

"You're actually putting more drunk drivers on the streets," warned Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III (D-Baltimore), one of two dissenters as the bill passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee 6 to 2. It now goes to the full Senate, where its opponents concede it is likely to pass because of the mounting public pressure for a visible show of force against drunk drivers.

The House also is expected to approve its companion version next week, after rejecting last Tuesday an effort to set the drinking age at 19. Since then, the House bill has been stalled by the opponents, who have conceded defeat, but are using delaying tactics to prevent the bill from coming up for a vote.

Currently, 18-year-olds in Maryland can legally drink beer and wine. Opponents of raising the age to 21 said that young people will still drink, but will do it in cars on the way back from Washington, where the legal age is also 18 for beer and wine.