Nestor Ramos

How to save happy hour (and thousands of lives)

Andrew Wisniewski, an operations manager for Smart Start of Maryland, demonstrated how an ignition interlock device works. The devices are put in cars to stop drunk drivers from operating their vehicles.
Brian Witte/Associated Press
Andrew Wisniewski, an operations manager for Smart Start of Maryland, demonstrated how an ignition interlock device works. The devices are put in cars to stop drunk drivers from operating their vehicles.

By the time you read this, Boston will be tipping back pints at Trillium Brewing’s new beer garden on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Some of the best beer in the world in one of the city’s finest settings? Have two.

Then take the T home.

Our relationship to alcohol is ever changing, and this is how we want to drink now — relaxing in the sun together, not slumped in some sad, seedy bar by ourselves.


But watch the cars race by on the Greenway, and you’ll encounter the conflicting desires near and dear to the liver of every devoted drinker: We would very much like to buy reasonably priced booze at the time and location of our choosing; And we would very much not like to be mowed down by a drunk driver.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

As a state task force undertakes a thorough review of Massachusetts’ baffling, antiquated alcohol laws, the most obvious cost of our consumption — drunk driving — hasn’t been a big part of the conversation yet. But there’s already a pretty good solution installed in the cars of nearly 6,000 Massachusetts drivers.

Ignition interlock devices, in use at some level in all 50 states, monitor convicted drunk drivers and prevent their cars from starting if the driver fails a dashboard breathalyzer test. In many states, first offenders are required to have them installed on their cars. In Massachusetts, much to the dismay of some advocacy groups, only repeat offenders are obligated to use them.

But what if every car came with one? It’s actually not that far-fetched. Cars have to have seat belts, and we have to wear them. We have to prove our fitness to drive through written, road, and eye tests.

And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has already issued rules that will require every car made and sold in America to have a backup camera starting next year. Why? Because it might save 60 or 70 lives a year by the time it’s fully implemented in about 2054 (if we don’t have flying cars by then anyway). Backup incidents kill about 200 people a year, according to the NHTSA.


Drunk driving kills about 10,000.

“If you have the capacity to save that many lives and prevent that many injuries, isn’t that something you would want to do?” asked Dean Dauphinais, a recovery advocate from Michigan whose father was a repeat offender until one of the devices was installed in his car.

Even after years of declines, 118 people were killed in crashes involving alcohol in Massachusetts in 2015, according to the NHTSA. And though Massachusetts has fewer per capita fatalities than the national average according to the Centers for Disease Control, 2.2 percent of adults here reported driving after having too much to drink in the last 30 days in a 2012 study.

Both the CDC and Mothers Against Drunk Driving advocate for at least requiring interlocks for all first-time drunk driving offenders. Statistics show they work remarkably well as deterrents to drunk driving, and they’ve so far survived all legal challenges to their implementation. Put simply, you don’t have a constitutional right to drive a car.

The idea of blowing into your car’s dashboard before you turn the key might make you gag, especially if you’ve never been convicted of drunk driving. And the cost, at least for now, is considerable — about $125 a month for convicted drunk drivers who foot the bill themselves. But the tradeoff is thousands of lives — yours, mine, our children’s.


As an added bonus, a lot of the marginal issues the well-intentioned state task force convened by Treasurer Deb Goldberg is taking up suddenly become pretty simple.

Happy hour? If everybody is blowing before they drive home, then sure — why not?

Between the cost and the car lobby, none of this is likely to happen anytime soon. Instead, we’ll keep debating the same things we’ve been talking about practically since prohibition — Sunday hours and tax rates and liquor licenses. The task force will include a health and safety working group, said E. Macey Russell, the task force’s chairman and a partner at Choate, Hall & Stewart law firm in Boston — a smart move.

But if we really wanted to solve the worst of these problems, we’d all just need to take a deep breath.

Nestor Ramos can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.