Are bars to blame for drunk driving?
In short: no. Drinkers are responsible for their own actions. But research collected by the County of San Diego shows roughly one-third to one-half of all drunk drivers are coming from bars and restaurants. These licensed establishments have the potential to play a key role in preventing irresponsible drinking.
Drunk driving is a huge threat to local residents. In 2012, 86 people were killed and more than 2,300 injured in alcohol-involved collisions in San Diego County, according to the California Highway Patrol.
State laws prohibit the sale or service of alcohol to minors or obviously intoxicated customers, and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) offers a free training program for licensees and their employees to help ensure they understand and comply with State laws.
More and more, cities are instituting responsible beverage server training ordinances to drive that message home.
On Nov. 14, the quarterly Alcohol Policy Panel meeting was held in the Vista Civic Center’s Community Room. Nearly 100 people gathered to hear progressive research on server training, law enforcement support and the necessary steps to reduce public intoxication and drunk driving.
At the municipal level, many cities have passed Responsible Beverage Sales and Service (RBSS) ordinances requiring employees of alcohol-licensed businesses to complete RBSS training, such as the ABC-certified Licensee Education on Alcohol and Drugs (LEAD) training. The training covers checking various forms of identification, liability laws and strategies to prevent over-service of alcohol, among other topics.
All this benefits alcohol retailers by limiting liability risks and higher insurance costs associated with illegal alcohol sales — to minors or intoxicated patrons who often cause DUIs, injuries, fights, property damage and noise complaints.
Currently, nine of San Diego County’s 18 municipalities require RBSS training.
As of January 2014, the five cities in North San Diego County with RBSS ordinances included Encinitas, Poway, San Marcos, Solana Beach and Vista. The training is not required in Carlsbad, Del Mar, Escondido and Oceanside.
In those five North San Diego County cities with RBSS ordinances, a smaller percentage of on-sale businesses were named as the ‘Place of Last Drink’ by DUI offenders, according to a 2010 analysis done by the Center for Community Research.
Between January 2012 and December 2013, more than 2,600 participants attended ABC LEAD trainings in North San Diego County — with nearly 73 percent from alcohol retail businesses. Many of the participants commented that the training gave them the tools to be confident in cutting off patrons.
But one study shows it’s not just retailer education, but also the threat of a law enforcement citation that helps reduce over-service and prevent impaired driving. Clearly, self-policing is not enough. More enforcement is needed to bring businesses into compliance.
At the Nov. 14 breakfast of the San Diego County Alcohol Policy Panel, James Fell of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation shared the latest research that shows our efforts must go beyond the responsible beverage service training.
When comparing 10 RBSS-trained bars with 10 control bars, the refusal of service rates jumped from 3.6 percent to 27.5 percent in the first post-training period, but fell to 21.3 percent in the second post-training check, the institute’s research shows.
Why the initial post-training spike? The researchers concluded it might have less to do with the recent RBSS training and more to do with to with law enforcement citing a bartender for over-service.
“In order for (training) programs to be effective and sustainable, quarterly or bi-annual undercover inspections by law enforcement with timely feedback to the bar owners is necessary to ensure compliance and create a deterrent effect,” according to Fell.
Ultimately, no one tactic solves the problem of drunk driving; it takes a collaborative approach between retailers, the ABC law enforcement and cities.
Hopefully, the holdout North County cities will consider taking proactive measures in the future to send a clear, unified message that our region is dedicated to making alcohol retailers key partners in reducing public intoxication and making our roadways safer.
Ray Pearson is president of the North Coastal Prevention Coalition.