On August 13, 2014, I attended the Statewide Substance Use Disorders Conference in Costa Mesa. It’s an annual conference that brings together experts who deal with alcohol and other drug issues—including drunk driving. One of the conference workshops was titled, “Responsible Beverage Service Training as a Community Resource” and discussed the problem of drunk driving in Orange County. It also presented the findings and future direction of a research project that will test solutions to the problem.
The Problem of Drunk Driving and Who’s Causing It
The workshop involved a number of expert panelists. One was Dr. Steve Bloch, senior research scientist for the Automobile Club of Southern California, who cited a number of studies revealing:
• Orange County has a significant DUI problem. Over the past four years, Orange County’s DUI death and serious injury rates have been about 10% higher than that of the state as a whole. Orange County’s DUI rate has remained largely unchanged for more than a decade.
• Licensed bars and restaurants are mentioned as place of last drink by a majority of offenders in Orange County DUI classes. In fact, 52% of DUI offenders had their last drink at a restaurant or bar. 34% had their last drink at a private residence and 14% had their last drink in a car or public place.
• Places with a Type 47, On-Sale General Eating Place license (restaurants) are the licensed establishments where police events happen most often. These establishments serve spirits as well as beer and wine.
• 58 to 85% of establishments do not cut off guests. The problem of over-service is worse after 10:00 p.m.
What’s Being Done About the Problem
With support by the California Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Orange County Responsible Beverage Service (OC-RBS) Project has been underway since 2012 to address the Orange County DUI problem.
Phase 1 provided the DUI information mentioned above along with descriptions of available RBS training courses that offer voluntary, individual server and floor manager training (“Tier 1 training”). Operating from April 2012 through March 2014, Phase 1 contacted about 1,500 on-sale outlets and 250 local officials and community groups in eight Orange County cities.
Phase 2 is being planned to provide consultation and training for owners and top management (“Tier 2 owner/manager training”) on safe and legal alcohol policies and practice in the eight Orange County cities mentioned. It will also focus on city oversight (“Tier 3 city oversight”), working with the four cities that mandate RBS training.
Training for owners and top management will focus on proper drink promotions, pricing, pouring policies, patron care and premises management (the “Five P’s”). Consultation will also include legal aspects of alcohol sales. Operators will receive help in assessing their risk and implementing preventive alcohol management policies.
One of the resources to the project is consultant Gregg Hanour, founder of Good Alcohol Practices and author of A Business Approach to Reducing Drunk Driving. Hanour was one of the workshop panelists and shared several pearls of wisdom, of which he has many after owning and operating an iconic nightspot for 20 years. Here are just a few:
• Businesses should post standards of behavior for their guests. For example, a sign stating that it is illegal and unethical to serve intoxicated guests and to please support the house policy.
• Part of “guest empowerment” is making guests aware of the “pleasure zone,” a lower BAC, up to .06%, at which people are relaxed, but not intoxicated.
• Guests should use cell phone downloads that track blood alcohol concentrations.
• Cocktail menus should list how many standard drinks are in each drink listed.
• Operators, armed with information about pour costs, can reduce intoxication problems while increasing profits and the bottom line. He cited studies that suggest liquor shrinkage (unaccounted-for liquor) chews up 20-30% of the bottom line, on average.
Studies by panelist Dr. Fried Wittman and his colleagues have found an estimated 50% of California cities have passed conditional use permit (CUP) ordinances to control the operation and design of on-sale establishments. These CUPs may require RBS training, but only a handful of the State’s 490 cities specifically mandate RBS training for all on-sale alcohol outlets, and even fewer cities have established city-wide interagency oversight alcohol policy working groups (APWGs) to assure high-fidelity implementation of these ordinances. These findings pave the way for Phase 2 of the OC-RBS Project (Dr. Wittman is President of CLEW Associates and an Affiliate Scientist at the Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute.)
In Phase 2, the project will test two models for implementing effective RBS training to reduce DUIs and related police problems. One model will test expanded provision of Tier 2 training for owner/managers of on-sales establishments (four cities). The second model will combine expansion of Tier 2 owner/manager training with technical assistance to help cities implement ordinances that require mandatory RBS training (Tier 3 city oversight) for all on-sales outlets (four cities).
Just a few of the many activities for Tier 3 city oversight will include city-wide, continuing documentation of on-sale outlet performance (police events); diligent enforcement of all alcohol laws, especially service to intoxicated and underage persons; full conformance to local CUP operating requirements; and monitoring each establishment’s RBS training activities. Consultation will also be provided regarding formation of a city interagency alcohol policy working group to coordinate oversight activities among city agencies, operating a transparent administration with regular reports to the public and to elected officials, and meeting regularly with on-sale operators.
Dr. Wittman cited evidence that community RBS can help:
RBS practices reduce excessive drinking when diligently applied in a context of supportive management policy and community pressure in the form of firm enforcement, public agency pressure, and popular (community) support (K. Warpenius, M. Holmila & H. Mustonen, Addiction, 105, 1032-1040 (2010).
Other workshop panelists included experts Patrice Rogers, Research Program Specialist from the Department of Motor Vehicles, Marcie Griffin, Deputy Division Chief, California ABC, and Kathy Kendrick, MPH from the County of Orange Health Care Agency, Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Team (ADEPT).
Dr. Wittman expects to submit a grant proposal in Fall/Winter 2014.