Iowa will begin keeping track of where drunk drivers had their last drink under a new pilot program called “Place of Last Drink.”
The hope is that the program will put pressure on alcohol-serving establishments to refrain from over serving patrons who might then get behind the wheel.
If you ask me, that’s a little like keeping track of sporting goods stores every time one of their patrons misuses a piece of sports equipment which injures someone. The pursuit to stamp out the cause of wrongdoing is being misdirected at those who have no control over it.
Why don’t you be the judge.
Iowa is preparing to track where drunk drivers had their last drinks
July 26, 2018. Des Moines Register – Soon, Iowa officials will gather information on where drunken drivers got drunk.
Officials with the Iowa agency that approves liquor licenses are pairing up with a national organization to track where intoxicated drivers were last served or provided alcoholic beverages.
Iowa is one of three states piloting “Place of Last Drink” tracking through a program overseen by the National Liquor Law Enforcement Association, a nonprofit group based in Maryland. While 12 states have Place of Last Drink, the national organization wants more states to adopt the program, which has been shown to reduce the over-service of alcoholic beverages and arrests for drunken driving.
“You can’t put a cost on lives saved,” said Justin Nordhorn, president of the national organization. “When establishments cut people off when they’ve had too much to drink, when they help them find safe rides home, we have safer roads.”
Nordhorn, who also is chief of Washington state’s liquor and cannabis enforcement and education division, said the association received federal money to develop a nationwide database that will allow law enforcement officers to input information about where an intoxicated person was drinking before a crime, incident or alcohol-related crash.
Data collected through the program will help law enforcement officers track problem establishments and pressure owners to change practices and train employees on ways to avoid over-serving alcohol to customers, Nordhorn said.
If problems persist, the database will provide local law enforcement officials and liquor licensing agencies evidence for possible punishment, he said.
Twenty months ago, an Iowa coalition made 66 recommendations on ways to get impaired drivers off the road through prevention, enforcement, education and adjudication. Place of Last Drink was included in the proposals.
The coalition was formed because of concern over the number of people driving while intoxicated. Since 2005, more than 1,100 people have been killed in alcohol-related crashes in Iowa, Iowa Department of Public Safety data shows.
“We have an over-service problem in Iowa and (Place of Last Drink) seems like a good way to address it,” said Josh Happe, regulatory compliance program bureau chief for Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division. “You start with outreach and education, and if that doesn’t work, sanctions on a liquor license can be an enforcement tool.”
Proving an establishment over-served a customer is difficult, said Steve Larson, the division’s administrator.
Since 2008, just 24 complaints of serving alcohol to an intoxicated person have been filed against the 6,750 Iowa establishments with liquor licenses, a Des Moines Register review found. Seventeen of the complaints resulted in sanctions.
However, Larson said that if the licensing agency can show that numerous people arrested for drunken driving had their last drink at a certain establishment, “we can hold those licensees accountable.”
The agency has begun to reach out to law enforcement agencies to encourage them to take part in the pilot program. Missouri and Vermont are also participating.
Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert said his department would be interested in learning more about the program. In March 2016, two Des Moines police officers and the inmate they were transporting were killed in a head-on crash caused by a drunken driver.
“We live in an age of accountability,” Wingert said. “It wouldn’t be like we’re trying to be heavy-handed. There’s an informational component to the bar owners; there’s a training component. It gives you a system of tracking whether a business is making progress.”
Roxann Ryan, Iowa Department of Public Safety commissioner, wrote in an email to the Register that the Iowa State Patrol would work with Larson’s agency on a “gradual implementation” of Place of Last Drink.
Ryan wrote that creation of the database is just one component to improving the safety of Iowa’s roads.
“It may be looking at options for alternative rides, or focusing on a designated-driver program, or just talking about the dangers of impairment in the community where the high-crash areas are located,” she wrote.
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant and bar industry opposes Place of Last Drink.
“Our industry is perpetually frustrated in the idea that the vast majority of people who are over-served alcohol are people coming out of our establishments,” said Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association. “The state of Iowa chose to make everything in the world a liquor store or bar. … Every place you go — the gas station, convenience store, Walgreens — you can buy single-service alcoholic drinks.
“If we really want to do something about the over-consumption of alcohol, then we need to look at the root of the problem: addiction and repeat offenders.”
A 2005 federal study found that about half of the people arrested for driving while intoxicated had their last drink at a bar or restaurant.
That study, coupled with the inability nationally to reduce the percentage of people killed in alcohol-related crashes, prompted the National Transportation Safety Board in 2012 to recommend nationwide implementation of Place of Last Drink programs.
Dunker acknowledge there are establishments in Iowa that serve patrons alcohol when they are intoxicated.
“We have no sympathy for the bad actors,” she said.
She said local law enforcement agencies typically know which bars and restaurants over-serve alcohol to customers and can talk with owners and suggest changes. In addition, if problems persist, authorities can ask that liquor licenses be suspended or not renewed.
“Another reporting tool is not going to help,” she said.
The Iowa Restaurant Association this past legislative session successfully pushed for changes in Iowa’s dram shop law, including putting a cap on some damage awards.
The changes also included dropping language in the law that stipulated servers could not provide alcohol to a patron if they either “knew or should have known” the person was drunk or would become drunk.
The change, which went into effect July 1, now makes it illegal to serve someone who is “visibly” drunk.
Jessica Dunker, the association’s president and CEO, said it was difficult to provide training on the previous standard.
“Visible intoxication has very specific standards — signs you can teach servers to look for,” she said. “You can eyeball somebody and pretty quickly know that they’ve been served enough alcohol to have a high BAC.”