Drinking and driving is something that we all think we take seriously. Right? Kind of?
It took a fatal car accident involving a friend (he was drunk, he lived) to make me re-examine my own responsibility as a drinker, especially since I drink on what is ostensibly a professional level — I should order those business cards — and thus have many opportunities to get myself and others into trouble.
The more I thought about it, the more it became apparent that drinking and driving is something that we really don't talk about in the craft beer community. Seriously: Google it. See how many articles you can find about the issue and compare it to how many Top 10 lists, brewery roundups and festival previews you can find.
The parking lots at beer festivals are packed, then conspicuously empty within an hour after the final samples are poured. I see lots of people ordering one last round before hitting the road, and they're not leaving in a taxi. I've been one of those people, even if I didn't think so at the time. These things seem normal in the beer world.
If drinking and driving was inexcusable before, it's even more so now with the widespread availability of ride-sharing services, taxis and the passage of new laws that make it less "expensive" to leave your car at drinking establishments overnight.
Pinellas County just passed a new ordinance that will make it illegal to tow cars left in the lots of drinking establishments between the hours of 9 p.m. and noon the next day, starting in October. Tampa's city council passed the same ordinance in June.
In other words, if you drive somewhere and don't plan your night properly, you can leave your car, get a ride home and get back before noon without having to pay a penalty due to predatory towing practices. A $300 towing fee is still significantly cheaper than a $10,000 DUI liability (or worse), but the fact is that these changes will absolutely make a positive impact and are a clear step in the right direction.
But laws making it easier to be responsible only go so far. As consumers, festival organizers and beer servers, we need to start talking about this issue and making changes. Beer servers and other bartenders should already have training in recognizing when guests have had a little too much, and they have the authority to cut these guests off. But what about festivals, or other situations where it's just not feasible to keep track of everyone's sobriety levels?
A good step would be to actively promote ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. If you have an account with either of these companies, you can get a promo code that will get a free ride for new users and will kick you back credit for your own account. Post that code up on the event page, on signs near the exit. And drinkers, stop trying to save $10 and call a damn car. I recently took a Lyft from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to central St. Pete, which is about 30 miles, and it cost under $25. It's worth it.
You've got lots of options. Park your car overnight and get a ride home without having to worry about it being towed. Call a cab. Ride-share. Get a hotel near the festival and walk. Just don't think that you can drink four pints (or a handful of festival pours) and have a safe drive home. Even if you feel okay, you're very probably over the legal limit.
Most important, talk about the issue. The biggest problem here is how little we acknowledge the dangers of drunken driving in the craft beer community. The public at large has a hard time telling the difference between craft beer enthusiasts and ordinary drunks. Let's make the distinction a little clearer, helping ourselves and others in the process.
I'm no angel. I make occasionally serious mistakes. But you know, the only thing worse than making mistakes is not learning from them.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG.