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Should Massachusetts return to allowing restaurants to offer ‘happy hour’ drink specials?

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Nick Silveira

Westborough-based attorney, Stoughton native, Dorchester resident

Nicholas Silveira

In 1984, five years before I was born at Beth Israel Hospital, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts enacted regulations banning “happy hour.” A lot was different in 1984. The #1 grossing movie was Beverly Hills Cop. Michael Jordan was a rookie with the Bulls, and the drinking age in Massachusetts was 20. The ban was a response to some tragic well-publicized accidents. Public sentiment is at its most vulnerable after times of tragedy, but unfortunately, the surplus of empathy during these times can lead to a dearth of reason. I would posit that allowing the dust to settle in these moments yields the most accurate solutions to problems facing a society.


With the appropriate goal of preventing alcohol-related fatalities, we must consider a number of factors.

Since the ban took effect, access to alternative transportation — namely the expansion of the MBTA and the advent of ride-share services — stands as a glaring contrast to the 1980s. Public sentiment about drunk driving has shifted significantly, and through such legislation as the 2005 Melanie’s Law, the state is cracking down on the practice.

There is also scant evidence that the happy hour ban had much effect in saving lives. In 1984, there were 411 alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities in Massachusetts. In the succeeding four years, the annual death rate ranged from 377 to 408. Fatalities didn’t fall below 200 until 1995. Trends in Massachusetts closely mirror those in the nation, which saw a significant drop in death rates in the early 1990s.

My name is Nick Silveira. I’m a 31-year-old Dorchester resident, and I recently filed a ballot initiative with the Attorney General to restore happy hour in Massachusetts. Undoing the ban would provide a needed shot in the arm to a bar industry that has been crippled by the pandemic, and help renew a sense of community and social freedom among all of us. But even putting those benefits aside, it’s abundantly clear that the well-meaning ban was misdirected, and if the underlying goal is to curb drunk driving, efforts are much better focused elsewhere.



David H. Jernigan

Professor of Health Law, Policy and Management at the Boston University School of Public Health; has worked on alcohol policy issues for 35 years.

David H. JerniganJackie Ricciardi/Boston University photography

Massachusetts should be a safe and healthy place for everyone; returning to dangerous drink promotions like “happy hours” would take us in the opposite direction.

Alcohol use is tightly regulated because nationally it causes about 100,000 deaths per year. At most 10 percent of those deaths come from drunk driving, because alcohol use also plays a causal role in homicides, suicides, poisonings, sexual assault, sexually-transmitted diseases, poor pregnancy outcomes, and chronic diseases such as heart disease, liver disease, and cancer. Alcohol problems cost Massachusetts $5.1 billion in 2010, the last year for which estimates are available.

I served on the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s 2018 expert panel that examined the nation’s stalled progress in preventing drunk-driving deaths. Our report found that 10,000 people still die yearly because of drunk driving, and that price promotions for alcohol are associated with increased excessive consumption, especially among young drinkers.

Uber and Lyft make no difference in reducing drunk driving: a 2020 study found the introduction of Uber increased binge drinking 3.7 percent in US cities, while its impact on drunk-driving was statistically insignificant; another 2020 study tested the association between Uber availability and alcohol-involved traffic fatalities in 100 US cities, and also found no relationship.


Massachusetts is among the top 10 states for binge drinking: close to 1 in 5 adults self-reported as binge drinkers in 2019, based on my analysis of federal data. Even with the pandemic effects, our state had more than 350,000 undergraduate public college and university students in 2020-2021. College students consume even more alcohol in response to price promotions. A 2009 study found all-you-can-drink promotions significantly associated with patron intoxication. (cq) A 2014 study found many young adults, including women and under 21s, drink more in response to happy hour specials.

These changes in their drinking were associated with roughly twice the odds of driving or getting into a fight while drunk. College students — or anyone — getting into fights or cars while drunk endangers everyone.

Bars and restaurants need help coming back from the pandemic, but that help should not happen at the expense of the health and safety of everyone else in Massachusetts.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.

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