Perhaps it’s the lull before the storm. Maybe restaurateurs have dodged a bullet. Could be that the battle over drinking, driving and who’s responsible has been settled. On second thought, probably not.
Last year’s battle in Washington was over a proposed national standard that would lower the legal blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) limit to 0.08 percent milligrams per decaliter of blood or lose as much as 10 percent of their federal highway safety funds, which would have been a powerful incentive difficult for any state to resist. Passing easily in the Senate, the bill was derailed in the House of Representatives, and, at least for the time being, the federal push was stalled.
But that doesn’t mean the fight is over. Washington will likely revisit this in a mid-term correction time, according to the American Beverage Institue’s tktktk, and meanwhile, battles still rage in state legislatures, which under the 21st Amendment, have the ultimate responsibility to set the standards.
As of today, 17 states have laws enforcing .08 BAC for drivers. But others keep pushing, and in some states, notably Virginia, anti-alcohol forces continue to push for lower measures, although their most recent effort to enact a .06 law was turned back.
What’s the basis for all this concern? Clearly drunk driving is in no one’s interest, but who and what are causing accidents differ. Alcohol-related deaths of all sorts have been shrinking, but drunk driving statistics are inching up even in states where .08 has been in force.
What effect have these laws had? Depends on who you’re speaking to. According to 15 years of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data the percentage of fatalities involving .08 drivers is virtually the same as those with drivers at .03, or even .01. By far (62.4%) most alcohol related traffic fatalities occur when drivers are at .14 BAC or above. In fact, almost 78% occur when drivers are at .10 or above.
But MADD says even the smallest number of fatalities stopped are worth while, even if it criminalizes a large segment of the population currently considered legal operators.
Industry and congressional opponents of the efforts argue that no conclusive research exists that tougher alcohol standards reduce drunk driving incidents.
Alcohol deaths have declined from more than 25,000 in 1982 to about 17,000 in 1986, dropping from about three-fifths to about two-fifths of all traffic fatalities. MADD claims a national law enforcing .08 would eliminate another 500 to 600 deaths.
ABI also argues that .08 is unpersuasive in other areas. Only two of the ten states with the lowest alcohol related traffic fatalities have adopted a .08 limit. New Mexico, which has the highest alcohol related traffic death rate, already has an .08 law. The ABI argues, as it has coinsistently, that the real problem is the chronic alcohol abuser and repeat offender.
Which begs a question: why can’t MADD and the ABI get together and propose mandatory license revocation and incarceration laws for repeat and chronic offenders above .14, say?.
Of the ten states with the lowest alcohol-related fatality levels in 1996. Only Utah (#1) and New Hampshire (#8) had .08 laws; Ohio (#2), Maryland (#3), Nebraska (#4), New York, (#4) Idaho (#6), Indiana (#7), New Jersey (#8) and Arkansas (#10) have .10 laws (In 1997, Idaho enacted a .08 law.)
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) lead the 1998 fight to push .08 BAC laws onto the national level. Arguing that .08 laws save lives when combined with other strong drunk driving laws, MADD president Karolyn Nunnallee said that when the laws are tied with license revocations, public awareness programs and other strong enforcemnent the laws save lives.
They and other organziations continue to call for the changes.
WHAT CAN RESTAURATEURS DO?
While few restaurateurs are called upon to testify at the federal state or local level, perhaps more should consider stepping forward.
ABI director of public affairs John Doyle says being well-informed and prepared to speak out in public, to press or at hearings, may be the best defense an individual in the full-service restaurant industry can have. Once individuals and politicians understand that the issues in cases like .08 BAC laws are more complicated than whether or not you are in favor of solutions that promise to reduce traffic fatalities, businesses serving alcohol may not be so stigmatized by the fight.
They also should keep in touch with organizations like ABI and NLBA about the on-going federal and state issues. Websites for both (Try Internet pages www.bacdebate.com, www.abionline.org and www.nlba.org to start, or call ABI at 800-843-8877 and the NLBA at 800-441-9894.)
Another way to make certain that your community know you as a responsible server of beverage alcohol is to embrace training programs that promote responsible service. Perhaps the best known is the Training for Intervention Procedures, or TIPS, created and developed by Dr. Morris Chafetz, founding director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Created to prevent alcohol misuse, drunk driving and underage drinking by enhancing fundamental people skills of servers and consumers, TIPS incorporates a common sense approach to serving alcohol responsibly in every setting.
Now in its 18th year, TIPS provider Health Communications, which markets TIPS programs suitable for on-premise, off-premise, casinos, concessions and four other service areas, claims no TIPS-trained server has ever been successfully sued in an alcohol-related liability lawsuit, and says more than 900,000 individuals will have received the training by the end of next March.
For more info on TIPS, call 1 800 GET-TIPS.