Restaurant Lobby Opposes All-Offender Ignition Interlock Law

The restaurant lobby has taken a stand against a genuine public menace: lost liquor profits. In a recent letter to the Delaware News Journal, the American Beverage Institute objected to Delaware’s new law which mandates that ignition interlocks be installed in the vehicles of first-time DUI offenders.

liquor shots on barIgnition Interlocks are devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above a designated limit. About half of US states require ignition interlocks to be installed after a first DUI conviction.

The Institute, which does not publish the names of its members on its website, has fought sobriety checkpoints, liquor taxes, lowering blood alcohol limits, liquor advertising bans, and other efforts to reduce the damage that alcohol does on and off the roads. The organization and its members clearly consider Delaware’s new ignition interlock law a step in the wrong direction.

Why is that? To be convicted of a DUI, drivers generally need to have a blood alcohol level of .08 or more. Why would the American Beverage Institute defend people who have clearly broken the law?

The answer is, the law considers someone driving with a BAC of .08 dangerous; the ABI doesn’t. Their hobby horse is the high-BAC offender: 70% of fatalities from drunk driving crashes, they are fond of telling us, happen with drivers whose BAC level is .15 or more. They want legislators to leave the interlocks to these people and lighten up those who have just had three or four beers before driving.

What the ABI doesn’t like to publicize is that drivers with a BAC of between .08 and .14 still die on the road at the rate of about 3000 each year.  Their families, and those of their victims, don’t consider the lives lost any less important because they’re part of a smaller statistic.

The ABI claims they are dedicated to preserving “the on-premise dining experience.” More likely, it’s the experience of ordering that second or third drink that they’re trying to preserve, since alcoholic beverages have the highest gross profit margins. Restaurants and bars don’t make money when diners, worrying about their BAC level, switch to water.

More and more states are passing first-offender ignition interlock laws, because they see that they work. A federal law has been proposed as well. Naturally the ABI has weighed in against it. But it’s the American people who must decide which numbers matter: liquor sales or road deaths.