Brown County Tavern League Joins Traffic Safety Commission

brown-county-tavern-league-bartenderAn organization promoting the interests of bars and taverns getting together with an organization promoting sober driving – it might sound strange. And we’re not convinced that it isn’t. But the Brown County Tavern League in Wisconsin has stated that, by joining Brown County’s Traffic Safety Commission, it is working to encourage patrons to find a safe ride home.

Bars in general are getting better at promoting ride-sharing and designated drivers. Wisconsin has the SafeRide program, whose stated goal is to “eliminate drunk driving on Wisconsin’s roadways” with coupons good for a free ride home. Some 85,000 drinkers took advantage of the program last year.

Wisconsin Drunk Driving Laws Matter Too

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging drinkers to leave their cars home. But Wisconsin’s drunk driving problem is one that has been discouraging and enraging public safety advocates for years, and rideshare coupons aren’t going to cure it.

One famous deficiency – a unique one in the country – is that Wisconsin does not criminalize first OWI offenses. It’s a ticketing infraction, much like a broken taillight. Everywhere else it’s a misdemeanor.

Another is the state’s ignition interlock law. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Thirty states now mandate the devices for all drunk driving offenders who register .08 percent or more on a breathalyzer. Wisconsin only mandates them for repeat offenders.

Finally, forty-four states now require bars to have dram shop liability insurance, which protects innocent parties harmed by those who have been drinking in a given establishment. Wisconsin does not, thanks in part to the efforts of the Tavern League. In fact, none of these measures gets support from any part of the alcohol industry or interest groups dedicated to increasing liquor sellers’ bottom line.

It’s good that bars are encouraging customers to get sober rides home. But there are drunk drivers out there who need to be caught, prosecuted and set up with ignition interlocks. For that to happen, Wisconsin will have to look for support from MADD and other groups whose only goal is to rid the state’s roads of drunk drivers.