A group of students in San Marcos brought up a great suggestion for dealing with the pervasive drink driving issue in it’s town center. Their idea? A “sober hour” where bars are suggested to stay open for an additional hour, alcohol free, to give people time to sober up before they head home.
Personally, I think this is a great idea, and in Austin it could have a serious positive impact on a few key issues with the cities current 2am rush hour. I don’t condone drink driving, but ignoring the issue, or planning based on what should happen, rather than what does happen, rarely works. There’s a few issues I think a sober hour would solve, so lets delve a little deeper.
When I first arrived in Austin I was pretty shocked by just how prevalent drink driving was among Austinites. It’s considered pretty normal, and phrases along the lines of “I’m okay to drive” can be heard repeatedly when walking through the end of night crowds. It’s not too surprising, lets face it, getting around Austin late at night isn’t easy, especially in a city with skyrocketing living expenses and stagnant wages. Not just making it harder to afford a cab, but meaning that many Austin residents live further away from the city center, making those cabs more expensive.
Truth of the matter is, some people are always going to drive drunk, and changing their minds is an insurmountable task. So if we can’t beat the idea of drunk driving, how can we lessen the impact? A one hour sobering up period could knock a significant 1 point of a persons blood alcohol level. They might not be sober, but making the majority of drunk drivers a little more sober could have a big impact on alcohol based accidents.
The Late Night Rush
If there’s one thing that exacerbates the late night drink drivers it’s the 2am rush. Everybody is trying to get out of downtown at the same time, crowds of people fighting for cabs step further and further out in to the street, and the traffic is temporarily gridlocked by drivers, the majority of which (lets face it) have had a few over the course of the night.
The sober hour is likely to solve this by spreading out when people leave the bars, meaning not only slightly more sober drivers, but also less congestion on the streets.
The Taxi Battle
Uber, Sober Money and Lyft are finally managing to break through some of the red tape that has killed off companies that had a similar model, and were founded in Austin (Way to go Austin City Council). They have better service, shorter wait times, are more reliable, and have nicer cars than the local taxi companies. They make it a little easier to get home at night, but unfortunately it can still be a battle for the cabs when 2am hits. This is a huge deterrent to taking a cab home, and may convince people to just “risk the drive”.
Spreading out when people leave will mean less of a rush to grab the cab, making it a more appealing option to many revelers who have partied the night away.
So What’s Stopping this From Happening?
It seems like the sober hour is a no brainer right? So what’s stopping this kind of easement from happening?
Mostly it comes down to profit. A bar staying open for an hour with no alcohol sales is not going to appeal to many, and though things like soft drink and water sales may help ease the pain, tips and sales are not going to be as high as those from a drinking crowd. Some bars may be able to overcome this a little easier, those that serve food would undoubtedly become hotspots (Afterall, look at 24 Diner, Magnolia Cafe, Thai Passion, etc) but the average downtown bar may have issues.
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