When a task force looking at the Commonwealth’s antiquated alcohol laws unveils its preliminary report — expected next month — here’s one thing that shouldn’t change: the database that lists establishments where convicted drunk drivers downed their last drink before being arrested.
The restaurant industry is making a misguided push to eliminate this forward-thinking state program, which requires judges to collect “last-drink” data. Unfair, the industry contended — especially after the Globe actually named names last December.
Certainly, there are a number of alcohol regulations in Massachusetts that are ripe for reform. Licenses are expensive, particularly in Boston, pushing proprietors either to move upscale or try for a high-volume business. That imbalance, which risks squeezing out the much-prized, laid-back neighborhood “local,” isn’t particularly good for thriving civic life.
And the existing 2 a.m. last call rule contributes mightily to Boston’s reputation as a pinched Puritanical province, a dated image for a city that needs to attract the kind of entrepreneurial workers who could just as easily relocate to Austin or Silicon Valley.
The 2 a.m. last call also tends to shoo scores of partiers onto the street all at once instead of allowing for the long, slow trickle home more typical of cities willing to countenance later hours. Massachusetts lawmakers recently voted to allow the state’s new casinos to serve until 4 a.m. In this case, they should heed the push by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association and, at bare minimum, experiment with extending last call to 4 a.m. for some establishments.
But the restaurant association is staking out the wrong position on OUI data collection. Evidence suggests that the law, far from being another manifestation of the nanny state, is doing what it’s supposed to. Just ask the folks at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in Foxborough. Named for the country singer’s paean to a homey, mythical watering hole, the bar at Patriot Place received more last-drink reports from 2012 to 2016 than anyplace else in the Commonwealth. By all accounts, the program scared the bar straight: It hasn’t been cited in any arrests since.
“We expect they’ll still have zero reports at the end of the year,” Ted Mahony, the top investigator for the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, told the Globe.
Toby Keith’s illustrates another key part of the program: State investigators don’t target one-off offenders, but watch for repeated citations before they visit a business to recommend specialized training for employees. The Foxborough bar also worked with ride-hailing companies to promote safe trips home — an easily replicable solution for suburban bars far from public transportation, where patrons might be more tempted to pour themselves into their car after a long night. And a note to the beleaguered taxi industry: This is an opportunity to step up.
Campaigns against drunk driving face an uphill battle against ingrained habits and glittering marketing campaigns. (Frank Sinatra made the old Harold Arlen bar lament, “One for My Baby and One More for the Road,” an iconic part of the mid-century American songbook.)
The last-drink program stands as a model for other states: Put simply, it’s a smart, low-impact way to save lives. The state’s alcohol task force, convened by Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, is already performing a service if it ends up modernizing the state’s alcohol laws. At the very least, it should preserve this essential public safety tool.