California boasts the fifth largest economy in the world. There are a number of ventures to thank for fueling this monetary engine, but one of the biggest is the restaurant industry.
According to the latest data, there are over 76,000 restaurants and bars in California — employing 1.8 million people, or 11 percent of the state’s workforce. These establishments account for nearly $100 billion in annual sales — economic activity that strengthens communities and offers unique dining experiences to residents and visitors alike.
Unfortunately, proposed legislation in the California Assembly would muzzle this sector by deterring customers from responsibly enjoying a drink or two over dinner or out with friends. And because many hospitality establishments rely on alcohol sales to make up a significant portion of revenue, the change will lead to job losses, wage reductions and some business closures.
More specifically, Assembly Bill 1713 would lower the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving by 40 percent from 0.08 to 0.05 BAC — redefining “drunk” to mean consuming one or two drinks. At a 0.05 level, currently responsible social drinkers will be subject to the life-ruining consequences of a DWI — including time behind real bars, thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees, license revocation, hiked insurance rates and the social stigma of being labeled a drunk driver.
Would you want to risk enjoying a glass of your favorite wine, mixed drink or beer at a restaurant if these were the consequences?
The proposal can’t be justified by compelling evidence of progress in road safety. It’s clear lowering the legal limit is only being spun by supporters as “tough on drunk driving” when in reality it’s anything but.
The overwhelming majority of alcohol-related traffic fatalities occur at high BAC levels — 92 percent of which involve someone with a BAC of 0.10 or above. It defies common sense and logic to maintain that those who already break the current 0.08 drunk driving law will change their behavior because the limit is lowered.
Instead of targeting dangerous drunk drivers, lowering the legal limit would make criminals out of those currently acting responsibly.
It takes very little alcohol to reach a 0.05 BAC. A 120-pound women could reach that level after consuming little more than a single glass of wine, while a 160-pound man would cross the threshold after two. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise to discover someone at 0.05 BAC isn’t meaningfully impaired.
In fact, talking on a hands free cellphone while driving is considered to be a greater impairment than being at 0.05 BAC. Should we be supporting imprisonment for your last phone call?
This isn’t to dismiss the persistent problem of drunk driving. It’s a public safety challenge that still remains to be solved. But policies that surgically address the real problem — including stronger enforcement of ignition interlock laws and increased investment in saturation and roving patrols that actively seek out dangerous drivers — is a more effective strategy.
We all want to save lives, but applying limited traffic safety resources to someone who responsibly consumes a drink or two over dinner, while ignoring legitimately dangerous drunk drivers, is not the solution. Especially when the policy would put California’s dynamic restaurant industry that generates so much economic prosperity in the crosshairs.
Jackson Shedelbower is the communications director of the American Beverage Institute.