Can a simple education program for bartenders and alcohol servers reduce drunk driving? The results of a study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) earlier this year suggest it can.
The study examined whether responsible beverage service (RBS) training and enforcement might serve as an effective tool in decreasing rates of high-risk alcohol consumption and subsequent impaired driving—specifically reducing DWI arrests and alcohol-impaired crashes among 21- to 34-year-olds. These drivers are a particularly high-risk group for alcohol-impaired driving.
The goal of RBS is to reduce alcohol-related incidents by educating service staff, thereby reducing practices of over-serving and serving recognizably intoxicated patrons.
Citing multiple studies that show “approximately half of intoxicated drivers had their last drink at a licensed bar or restaurant,” NHTSA noted the amount of alcohol consumed and servers who continue to serve obviously intoxicated customers are “the most significant risk factors associated with drinking and driving.”
Conducted in two communities—Monroe County, New York and Cleveland, Ohio—the study used 10 intervention bars and 10 control bars to compare the RBS/enforcement impact on serving practices over three, distinct time periods or waves.
In Monroe County, there showed to be a “significant drop in the proportion of 21- to 34-year-olds arrested for DWI” with intervention bars experiencing “a significant reduction in the number of calls-for-service compared to the control bars.”
In Cleveland, success came at the earlier stages, when “the intervention reduced bar patron intoxication and/or drinking and driving measures during the first post-intervention period only.” Here, the intervention bars performed “significantly better than the control bars in terms of changes in average BACs of bar patrons and the proportion of intoxicated patrons.”
Education and enforcement: A good combination
The study indicates that RBS training combined with proper enforcement does, in fact, reduce bar patron intoxication by over serving and subsequent impaired-driving incidents, particularly when service staff are properly aware of and trained in RBS.
NHTSA concludes that “RBS training, followed by visible and sustained enforcement, may be an important strategy to combat impaired driving and injuries associated with excessive drinking.”
The lesson is this: if communities hope to decrease alcohol-impaired-driving incidents, education in and enforcement of responsible beverage service is a step in that direction.