Re: Massachusetts Happy Hour. Hey Everybody, Chill Out

You think this happy hour thing has got people riled up? Everyone’s had an opinion: the Globe, the Herald, us, that guy who threw his empty onto the ice at the Bruins game last night. On one side, the argument that only a Puritan backwater would be so controlling as to tell its citizens that they’re not responsible enough to enjoy discounted alcoholic beverages. On the other, the argument that bringing back happy hour would lead to more drunk driving.

Might I suggest that we all cool out a bit? For starters, there’s an awful lot more that goes into determining the amount of drunk driving around here than happy hour. If that were all that mattered, we’d never have a problem with anyone getting behind the wheel sauced, right? But according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Massachusetts ranks a less than stellar 31st in the nation in drunk driving. They factor a number of statistics into their rankings, and according to the MADD site, over a recent 12 month period, we had 108 DUI fatalities, accounting for 32 percent of all traffic deaths. Of course, most of those 30 states doing better than us (at least according to MADD’s rankings) have happy hours. Our Northeastern big city neighbor states, for instance, New York and Pennsylvania, rank 11th and 30th respectively. Bars serving happy hour specials are plentiful in both of those states.

Point being, there are a million things that impact the prevalence of drunk driving, from culture, to public transportation quality, to enforcement. Speaking of, you know what might have a real impact on the amount of drunk driving in the state? That the state police plan to increase their presence on the road. The Globe reported on Monday that the staties are raising their first class of recruits since 2006, with plans to add 251 troopers to their ranks. The paper wrote:

From 2005 to 2008 drunken-driving arrests across the state rose dramatically. But since 2008, when there were 5,345 arrests, the numbers have declined each year – a drop that officials attribute to having fewer troopers to make arrests. So far this year, there have been 2,947 motorists charged with drunken driving.

That’s the type of thing that really affects drunk driving levels. Hopefully enforcement will improve in other ways as well. And yet, we’re all fixated on this happy hour issue. Allowing bars to discount drinks may in fact increase the amount of drunk driving in Massachusetts. Then again, it (and the casinos coming with it) may sufficiently goose business so that tax revenues go up and we can afford more prevention programs or even police. Who knows? But while we sort all this out, it’s worth remembering that there’s a lot more that goes into making Massachusetts roads safe than outlawing two-for-one beers.