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Editors Blog

Your House is On Fire!

March 17, 2009 By: Donna Hood Crecca

Yes, it is. Not the four-alarm blaze type of fire, but a burn of a more insidious type: a slow one that smolders, gradually gaining in intensity until suddenly it’s too late to salvage anything of your business.

The “fire” here is the push toward universal ignition interlocks. If you have no idea what ignition interlock is, you need to wake up and smell the neo-prohibitionist smoke signals.

Ignition interlock is a device installed on the vehicle of a convicted drunk driver; it tests the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of the driver attempting to start the car, and if the BAC exceeds a pre-set threshold, the car will not start. MADD and other groups, including our own government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are advocating for the installation of ignition interlocks on all vehicles, not just those of high-BAC repeat drunk driving offenders. And the “threshold” will be set well below the legal limit of 0.08% BAC. In other words, a 120-pound woman who enjoys two glasses of wine with her dinner will stroll to parking lot and find herself stranded. And next time, she’ll think twice about going out at all.

What’s more, drivers won’t even know the technology is there. Automobile manufacturers including Volvo are gearing up to present transdermal BAC sensors and other non-invasive, random testing equipment – no blowing into cumbersome tubes anymore – as an available option on their cars as early as next year. MADD has openly stated its ultimate goal is to see this technology installed in all vehicles, regardless of the driver’s record.

So, what does that mean to you? Well, do you have a parking lot? Do patrons drive to and from your establishment? Do you smell smoke?

In Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Last week, the membership of the American Beverage Institute gathered to figure out ways to get the industry and the American consumer to understand the implications of universal ignition interlocks on their businesses and their lives. It’s important to note here that the position of the hospitality industry – including on-premise operators and the beer, wine, spirits suppliers and wholesalers who partner with them – support ignition interlock for high BAC repeat offenders. What the industry objects to is the spread of legislation that mandates ignition interlocks for low-BAC first time offenders. Such laws are already on the books in 10 states; legislation is pending in 20 states.

Do you know what the status of your state is? If you operate in Arizona, you certainly do. Steve Shlemon, president of the Carrabba’s chain and president of ABI, shared that since the low BAC first offender law went on the books in that state last year, drink sales are down at his restaurants there, down enough for him to say, “it’s killing us.”

MADD’s strategy is this: work through the legislatures to push for ignition interlocks for low BAC first-time offenders. What legislature will say they’re against something designed to prevent drunk driving? The organization’s strategy also involves engaging auto manufacturers and technology companies to develop seamless ignition interlock systems, and marketing them to the parents of teen drivers shopping for their son or daughter’s first car. Do you think insurance companies will discount policies on vehicles with such equipment? The idea here is to “normalize” the technology in the consumer’s mind. Then, it will become standard in all vehicles. And your parking lot will likely be empty.

There are many half-truths flying about on this issue, but the truth is this: the vast majority of Americans drink responsibly. Universal ignition interlocks will punish them for crimes they are not committing, while not addressing the problem of the problem drinker. No one in this industry is for drunk driving. We train on responsible service, we encourage designated drivers, we do all sorts of things to make sure our guests enjoy themselves and get home safely to come back and enjoy themselves another day in our establishments. Ignition interlock will squash that enjoyment factor of a glass of wine with dinner or a cocktail before the theater or a beer while watching the game, not to mention snuff out as much as 30 percent of your sales, possibly more as traffic into your venue drops radically when folks opt to spend the evening at home. But it won’t really address the issue of alcohol abuse.

Do you detect the flames? If you, as a bar, restaurant, nightclub, hotel or casino operator, don’t speak up on this issue – tell your employees, your guests and your legislators – that this is happening, then it will. And it will occur by 2016, according to ABI projections. Seven years.

The heat is on. Your house is indeed on fire. But it’s not too late. Educate yourself on this issue – we’ll continue to cover it in Nightclub & Bar magazine and here on our web site – and visit www.interlockfacts.com or www.abionline.org for more information. Check out MADD’s position as well (www.madd.org) and even DADSS (www.dadss.org) to get both sides of the story. Contact your legislator. Speak to your friends. Sound the smoke alarm.

Donna Hood Crecca
Editorial Director, Nightclub & Bar


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