Restrictions on Adult Alcohol Access Don't Make Us Safer

Data show rules don't appear to reduce violent crime, binge drinking, or drunken driving.


Credit: marco_ask / photo on flickr

Violent crime and binge drinking are two potential undesirable outcomes of access to alcohol. But is increased access to alcohol for adult drinkers a sufficient precondition for these attendant negative externalities of drinking?

A recent look at the impact of changes to laws governing pub hours in England and Wales 10 years ago, reports the BBC News Magazine, suggests that it is not.

In 2005, the new Licensing Act meant that pubs, which had been forced by law to close at 11 p.m., could stay open all day, every day.

Predictably, opponents of this deregulation outlined end-of-days scenarios resulting from a 24/7 drinking culture.

"It was reported that the act would lead to round-the-clock drinking and there were warnings that extended hours would cause chaos," reads the BBC report. "The Royal College of Physicians said it would increase alcohol consumption. Police chiefs complained that their forces would be stretched. One judge said that easy access to alcohol was breeding 'urban savages.'"

But data show that violent crime—already falling before the Licensing Act—has continued to plummet since the law took effect. The same is true of rates of dangerous binge drinking.

While the Act may or may not be responsible for the decline, predictions that it would increase rates of negative unintended consequences have proven unfounded. A new wave of "urban savages" failed to materialize.

In the United States, policies like those that existed in England and Wales before 2005 are common. Indiana, for example, prohibits any sales of alcohol between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.

A tangled web of other restrictions also exists.

For example, Massachusetts has prohibited bars and restaurants from offering happy hour drink discounts since the early 1980s. The ban arose after a woman jumped onto the hood of a friend's moving car, fell off, and died. The driver had been served several discounted drinks during a happy hour.

"State officials concerned about drunk driving" soon proposed to ban happy hours altogether, reported the Associated Press.

How is the ban working? CDC data show Massachusetts today has the second-highest rate of drunk driving in New England, and a rate that's 15 percent higher than the national average. This is true despite the happy hour ban and the fact the state has the most robust public transit system in the region.

While happy hour bans are uncommon elsewhere in the United States, other limitations on adult access to alcohol are not. Dry counties and restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales exist in many states.

While restrictions like these haven't produced benefits, that hasn't stopped a host of groups around the country from pushing for still more curbs on alcohol access.

In California, the neo-Prohibitionist group Alcohol Justice fought against a new state law that opened up wine tastings at farmers markets. As I discussed here earlier this year, the group argued that such tastings "threaten public health and safety."

Elsewhere, the University of Wisconsin Law School is home to an anti-alcohol center, the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project, that seeks "to improve the alcohol environment." Improving that environment, according to WAPP, means influencing "municipal leaders, law enforcement, the media and community coalitions" to adopt "[p]ublic policies [that] make… alcohol less available… less attractive [and] less affordable."

As data from England, Wales, Massachusetts, and elsewhere shows, policies like these that restrict adult access to alcohol don't reduce binge drinking and violent crime. They don't appear to reduce drunk driving, either. Supporters of such policies must come to term with these facts.

Finally, we know already that the solution many propose is itself one of the greatest—if not the greatest—causes of the problem it's intended to rectify. Violent crime and binge drinking were the top negative unintended consequences of alcohol Prohibition in the United States in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Punishing drunk drivers and those who perpetrate violent crimes (whether while drunk or sober) and educating the public about the dangers of binge drinking are sound public policies. On the other hand, restricting adult access to alcohol is a farcical and failed policy.

NEXT: New York Times Calls for Immense Expense and Political Civil War To Maybe Possibly Hopefully Reduce Gun Violence by a Tiny Amount

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  1. They're going to have to pry that Malbec out of my cold, dead hands.

  2. Prohibitionists of all stripes fulfill the legend of the Puritans, laboring under the fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun in their own way without asking permission of the State. These uninformed, ignorant, naive, and generally dim-witted sheep MUST be herded by their betters, for the betterment of society. For without the wise and tolerant guidance of these elite, society would descend into chaos even worse than the brutal savage selfish society we have today.

    What astonishes me the most about these modern day Puritans is that they define society in terms of themselves alone, the minority, ignoring that society is the sum of everybody's actions, and that they are the ones out of step with society's spontaneous norms. They really do think they are society's guides for everyone else to follow, as if there really is just One True Society which has not yet been obtained, due entirely to the recalcitrance of us ignorant savages holding back Progress with a capital P.

    1. Yes....but why do people think that they should control everything about anything? That's what's always confused me.

      1. There are many people with boring sex lives.

      2. The looters are simply realists--they see their chances and they take 'em. People are too lazy to ride and Detroit lobbyists own Congress. So they seek to undermine the 2nd Amendment so they can someday tax at gunpoint with nobody able to return fire. When the automakers are nationalized in the next collapse they can go back to having troopers shoot drivers and rob... er... "forfeit" their assets at will.

      3. The Ayn Rand hypothesis is that there is something about altruism that drives people to worship death. None of the socialists, prohibitionists or jihadists ever mention this, much less debate or counter it. This is just as well because when you look at every mass-murder perpetrated using political state machinery, the ideology and justifications behind it are invariably altruistic. NSDAP Germany, Pol Pot and Mao massacres, Stalinist purges, Serbian genocide, Dark Ages wars and Crusades, war famines, Waco massacre... and when the State cannot be co-opted, the People's Temple in Guyana and hundreds of similar events so strongly support the Ayn Rand hypothesis that it could easily become a known fact (like "all men are mortal") by induction. This is probably why it is never mentioned by her critics. Still, make a policy of coercing others at gunpoint and pretty soon someone is laboring to see you dead. It's not difficult to observe and understand.

      4. For the non-politicians, the desire to abdicate control of their lives is born out of fear, plain and simple. No wonder, then, that for politicians, fear is the most oft-used tool in their bag (besides Bernie Sanders, he's definitely the biggest tool if we're talking tools now). It's a big, scary world out there, and the Progressives think you can somehow control it all in a benign way; They don't recognize violence as a fundamental and unavoidable aspect of the control they desire. The Progressive support system says, "You don't have to navigate the big, scary world on your own...in fact, it'd be better for you if you didn't navigate at all, leave that to your betters. We know best how to deal with the crazed gunman, the terrorists from other lands, the layoff, your education, the price of cable tv, etc. You'll also need these regulations to tell you how to do business, but don't worry about that, we're taking control of your money as well...Safety!"

        There's simply nowhere to turn this presidential election, imho. We're so far into the weeds with the progs that we apparently need government to protect us from high fructose corn syrup and fantasy football, and the "conservatives" simply couch the same fear arguments in the framework of drug policy and foreign wars. Same violence, same excuses, same crock of shit we can't afford...

  3. The real danger is 'early intervention and treatment' in which you are required to confess you have a disease that makes you drink and get drunk and get behind the wheel and unleash havoc and mayhem. They should do a study comparing outcomes for 2 TX counties based on AA mandating.

  4. Glad my observation regarding firearms and alcohol in the debate over public safety is finally taking hold--I've been seeing similar remarks over the last few days after the San Bernardino shootings.

    If the left was as concerned about public safety as they claim, they'd be pursuing alcohol restrictions with the same zeal and vigor they do towards firearms. But they don't give a crap about drunk drivers who splatter people all over the road, just MUH KAHMUN-SENS GUN REGULASHUNZ. They're mendacious, authoritarian assholes who don't debate in good faith and constantly shift the goalposts, and therefore are never to be trusted or respected on any position they promote.

  5. An alcohol still is a great addition to anyone's emergency supplies! Tobacco seeds too(I grew my own tobacco for years before I decided to quit.)

  6. Pogressives have control issues. Another real possibility is these folks have small penises, or are with people that have that problem, or are ugly inside. They must be so mad at themselves they want to take it out on others.

    Look, libertarians don't have to hide behind the state to dominate. We do it our damn selves. Though, I keep it in the bedroom, or when I'm looking to accomplish something, i just dominate. There is no desire for me to hide behind some douchebag in fancy clothes and watch as they run around stealing from people, while THEY hide behind their standing armies. I just want folks to be free and leave me the hell alone.

    Seriously, like WTF is up with progressives who have napolean complex of the pants?

    1. "Another real possibility is these folks have small penises, or are with people that have that problem, or are ugly inside."

      The funny part is that anti-gun people are always smearing gun owners with the "small penis" argument. Think about the typical anti-gunner (whimpering for big daddy government to come save them from all the meanies out there) and the typical gun owner (accepting that one must use any means necessary to protect home and family). Then ask yourself which one is truly the example of diminished manhood.

  7. Good read. I fucking hate alcohol restrictions. There was a long period where I worked 12-hour days on 2nd shift with only Sunday off (if I was lucky). This made it damn near impossible to get a bottle of whiskey at the liquor store.

    1. I recall when nobody really cared a whit for alcohol when we gathered in the parks. This was before the Nixon pogroms...

  8. Alaska's laws are far more convoluted than the link says. It's a mess up here.

  9. All the dry arguments for initiating deadly force were advanced in the 1920s, but the young men who returned from war and kept their rifles and service pistols returned fire. The graph of dry agents shot increased steeply until the government quit reporting the data, and the collapse of the economy that always results from fanatics armed with socialist income tax laws forced repeal before they ran out of agents with guns. But nowadays the police are much more efficient. Every tippler riddled with dozens of rounds when someone yells "knife" or "gun" or "verifiable ballots" is one less customer to the liquor trust.

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  11. Violent crime and binge drinking are two potential undesirable outcomes of access to alcohol

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