How Does a “Dry” Town Rack Up So Many DWI Arrests?

New Jersey dry towns get dwisIt’s not hard to get the idea of a dry town. Even people who drink admit that alcohol is at the root of a lot of problems in society. While very few people want to reinstate 1920-style prohibition, a lot of public safety advocates believe that limiting the sale of alcohol can reduce the damage it does. And there is research to back that up.

But banning alcohol outright doesn’t guarantee sobriety. The website NJ.com sifted through court data and found that the some New Jersey dry towns – there are some 30 municipalities that outlaw the sale of alcohol altogether – fare as poorly or worse than “wet” towns when it comes to drunk driving.

Worse was Maurice River Township, a town of 8,000 people that racked up 50 DWIs in 2015, and 54 the year after. You’d think that, with a population that had no access to alcohol within its borders, it would have a vanishingly small rate of drunk driving.

It’s an issue because, in a number of these towns, there is pressure from restaurants to at least allow them to serve wine, if not roll back the dry laws altogether. This pressure has met resistance from those who want to keep the town dry. Who’s right?

New Jersey Dry Towns: The Prohibition Effect?

prohibition didn't workThose who crusade against alcohol and drug legislation never tire of pointing out that Prohibition didn’t work, and in fact it made drinking a popular pastime across the country. The truth is more complicated than that, but it’s true that you can’t legislate alcohol out of existence. It might be that because people in New Jersey dry towns who want to drink need to shop out of town, they might stock up on alcohol. Stocking up means they might have a larger supply of booze on hand, which might lead to more drinking.

We do know however, that certain measures that restrict alcohol sales do lead to reduced drunk driving rates. In particular, higher alcohol taxes and restriction of alcohol sales to certain hours leads to fewer alcohol-related road deaths, as well as other alcohol-related problems.

So if less alcohol is better, shouldn’t no alcohol be best? Apparently it doesn’t work that way, at least not all the time. The best policy is probably to limit but not prevent alcohol sales, so that people don’t stock up, and to tax it in such a way that overdrinking is discouraged.

Add to that a sensible measures to deal with DWI, including a well-monitored ignition interlock program to prevent drunk drivers from reoffending, and you have a policy that everyone can live with.