Despite State Liquor Monopoly, Drunk Driving Deaths Not Lower in PA

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John Nelson at IDV Solutions maps US traffic fatalities involving intoxication between 2001 and 2010. What’s notable is that despite the purported public safety benefits of the state monopoly on wine and liquor sales, PA looks no better off in terms of drunk driving fatalities compared to the rest of the United States. If anything, Philly and Pittsburgh come out looking pretty bad, in comparison to some of the other big metros.

Maybe instead of running a state monopoly on alcohol, Harrisburg should pay to keep the SEPTA trains running after the bars close…

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24 Responses to Despite State Liquor Monopoly, Drunk Driving Deaths Not Lower in PA

  1. John Rzodkiewicz says:

    Drunk driving deaths have nothing to do with public ownership of liquor stores. Most DUI arrests and accidents occur on the return trip from privately owned drinking establishments that have a profit motive. Statistics show that the drink of choice for both drunk drivers and binge drinkers is beer, and the number of problems in a given state is more closely related to the rate at which beer is taxed. Pa. has one of the lowest taxes in the nation. Pa. has the lowest death rate due to alcohol related disease in the nation, probably because we don’t have hard liquor in our face everywhere we go. I really hope your plan to keep public transportation running late into the night so private alcohol sellers can continue to profit from sales to inebriates was just a joke. A very unfunny one at that.

    • Jon says:

      Actually it’s not a joke. Correct me if I’m wrong, but bars are open until 2 in Philly, and the trains stop running at 12. That’s a public health disaster.

      • John Rzodkiewicz says:

        No problem if they are not over-served. And given the same choice I give them. Call for a ride or I’ll call You a cab, but get in that car and I’m calling the cops. Simple really.

        • Lew Bryson says:

          My God, John, you’re like the guys who advocate putting methyl alcohol in all industrial alcohol supplies during Prohibition without labeling it as poison.

          Don’t you get the idea of “MASS” transit? Better for everyone than using a cab. Run the trains later on Fridays and Saturdays; it’s a public health issue. Apparently you’d rather have people either drive their cars and kill, or take a cab and pay through the nose, than run the trains two hours later. You’re one mean SOB, John.

          • John Rzodkiewicz says:

            Thank you. When it comes to irresponsible sots I’ll be an SOB rather then allow them to harm themselves or others. They do have the option of having a designated driver if getting that smashed is important to them. Trains running just to transport drunks rather than attacking the problem of overselling for profit, and the more you talk about it a huge problem already in Philly, is admitting defeat. We need a culture change.

          • Lew Bryson says:

            Can’t reply to your hard-hearted bastard of a statement below, so… It’s truly sad and pathetic that you seem to think the only reason people ever drink is to get drunk. It probably comes from the constant harping that “alcohol is a drug.” My response is that if you TELL people “alcohol is a drug,” don’t be in the least surprised if that’s how they use it.

            Surprisingly, I DO agree that we need a culture change, wholeheartedly. We drink stupid in this country, and I’d much rather see people drinking for the flavor and the mild “social lubricant” effect (and the well-known cardioprotective effects of moderate drinking as well, of course) than for getting blotto, forgetting troubles, or numbing themselves to a harsh life. I’d like to see that kind of shift…it’s just that I know we can’t achieve cultural change through taxes and retail control. People have to be convinced, not coerced: see Prohibition and its failure.

            I’m walking off at this point; need to spend some time with my family on a Saturday afternoon. Might have a beer, too: it’s my preferred alcohol drink, after all.

        • Jon says:

          There are lots of good reasons to keep SEPTA running later than midnight anyway. It would be a boon to all kinds of nightlife, not just bars. 24-hour cities are safer cities.

          • John Rzodkiewicz says:

            As long as it’s financially feasable it would make sense. Those working in the hospitality industry and other night jobs need to get home safely.

  2. Lew Bryson says:

    “Drunk driving deaths have nothing to do with public ownership of liquor stores.”

    Does that mean you’ve abandoned that argument, and Wendell W. Young IV won’t be using it anymore? That would be a relief, to have one less lie to contend with when the bull barrage starts over how Wendell and the UFCW are only thinking of the children when it comes to privatization. The UFCW is concerned about one thing, and one thing only: union jobs. That’s fine — they SHOULD be, that’s what pays Wendell’s exorbitant salary — but the constant posturing about public health and tax revenue and — for God’s sake! — selection in far-flung rural Pennsylvania should be recognized for what it is: window-dressing, and fawning to interest groups who might ally with the union in its continued fight to keep the liquor and wine monopoly alive so that they can keep ALL liquor retail jobs union jobs. That’s easiest to do when liquor retail is (ridiculous though it may be) a government monopoly.

    And blaming PA’s drunk driving rates on the low beer tax is simply silly. While PA does have a low tax, there are many other factors involved; a large rural population, for example (with long distances to travel and no transit). You say “Statistics show that the drink of choice for both drunk drivers and binge drinkers is beer…”, which is misleading: the drink of choice in general is beer — it is by far the most popular alcohol beverage — so it stands to reason that it is the drink of choice for any general sub-group of drinker; for instance, the drink of choice for moderate drinkers is also…beer.

    Do you want the State to take over all bar and restaurant alcohol sales, John? That’s implied by your statement that “Most DUI arrests and accidents occur on the return trip from privately owned drinking establishments that have a profit motive.” Well, save us from that profit motive! Give us union bartenders who will make us a limited selection of cocktails from a limited selection of spirits, because “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it!” Give us restaurants that only serve drinks till 9:00 (and don’t serve on Sundays) because those are the work rules! Keep Pennsylvanians safe and controlled! Or don’t, because it provides a group to blame for any alcohol issues so you can continue to play your game that keeping the asinine, outdated, paternalistic, anti-consumer State Store system is about anything other than keeping a fossilized relic alive to keep the retail jobs unionized.

    • Jon says:

      The public safety arguments for the state monopoly are silly. People aren’t drinking at the stores. You have to make an argument that it’s reducing the amount of alcohol people buy and consume, and there’s no evidence of that.

      John has a point that beer is the drink of choice for alcoholics and problem drinkers. I’m not as quick as Lew to dismiss the public safety issues. Problem drinkers and drunk drivers cause a lot of damage to people who are not party to the exchange between buyer and seller. That’s a classic externality problem, and it calls for a solution that makes the problem drinker absorb more of the costs of the damages.

      The easiest way to do that is through higher beer taxes. As someone who loves beer, I’d find that annoying. But I think it’s true that if a small beer tax is really starting to hurt you in the wallet then you’ve got a drinking problem. I would gladly pay a higher beer gallonage tax if it meant we could dispense with the stupid premise that the state monopoly is controlling the public health problems. Stop regulating where people can buy alcohol, and address public safety issues entirely on the demand side, via taxes.

      • Lew Bryson says:

        Problem is, Jon, you really have to jack the beer tax up a LOT to have any useful effect on consumption, and as you point out, higher taxes hit a lot of people who aren’t even causing a problem; the majority of them, after all, are NOT problem drinkers. That’s like asking me to help pay your speeding ticket because I also drive. I would be much more willing to accept more serious penalties, escalating penalties, for dangerous drinkers. Driving deaths are largely caused by people who have over 0.12 BAC; yet current drunk driving laws penalize someone with a 0.08 BAC the same as someone who blows a 0.22. Let’s try some focus, and move away from blunt instruments. Excise taxes are regressive at their root. I’m not for that.

    • John Rzodkiewicz says:

      US drink preference is 37% beer,35% wine, 22% hard liquor. Depending on the study you use beer counts for about 65% of the problems above. Wine as low as 5%. Hardly evidence that beer is the DOC of moderate drinkers.

      • Lew Bryson says:

        That’s a Gallup preference poll, John. That’s someone calling people at home and asking them what their preferred beverage is. Kind of like those ridiculous “estimated” studies the anti-alcohol guys are always throwing around as if they were based on facts rather than wild extrapolation.

        Let’s talk about what actually happens. In 2004 (the last year I have numbers for, sorry, but things haven’t changed significantly), Americans bought 668 million gallons of wine, but they bought 6.7 billion gallons of beer. Maybe it’s not volume, though. Maybe dollars will show the story you want to hear. After all, wine costs more than beer. Nope. Again, using 2004 numbers, Americans spent:
        $23 billion on wine
        $49 billion on spirits
        $82 billion on beer

        Beer is hugely the drink of choice of the general public. It’s no surprise — or significant fact — that it’s the drink of choice of binge and moderate drinkers.

        • John Rzodkiewicz says:

          Since the poll respondents do not agree with your alcocentric world view, they must all be liars and the whole thing ridiculous. Cuz you say so. On the other hand, if they told the truth and this isn’t part of the conspiracy to screw Lew, then your sales figures just support the notion that beer drinkers are more likely to drink more and engage in risky behavior. Since I believe those polled had no reason to lie I’ll say thank you very much.

          • Lew Bryson says:

            What a single-minded determination you have to blot out any hard facts that might tilt your carefully constructed fantasy world. There’s no conspiracy, John. It’s more than a little ironic how you cling to this preference poll, yet so quickly and completely dismiss the same kind of poll that shows almost 2/3 of Pennsylvanians are in favor of privatizing the State Stores. And since I believe that those polled in BOTH cases had no reason to lie, I’ll say thank you very much indeed.

            Meanwhile: the preference poll may be true, may be the result of a moment’s whim, or may be utterly worthless…but the facts simply reflect the truth: beer is the drink of the people, and most of it consumed in America comes in at 4.2% or less: much less than the wine and spirits you sell at the State Stores. In reality, one type of drink is no more or less dangerous than another…but that also tilts your little fantasy world off its axis, so I don’t expect you to believe that, either.

  3. John Rzodkiewicz says:

    Jon’s last comments seem to apply to the natural experiment that is ongoing in Washington St. From most reports it’s not working out very well at all. I could post links to all the stories about theft, both by teenagers and organized gangs, higher prices, decreased selection increased apparent consumption, border bleed, small specialty stores already closing because they can’t compete with the big boxes, outside industry job losses related to privatization, etc, but they would probably just be ignored like my post here stating that Pa. has the lowest rate of death from alcohol related disease in the country. And as we know, alcohol as it is used by most is just a recreational drug. That’s all we are talking about here. We also know it kills more people than firearms and all the illegal drugs combined every year in this country. Reaching Alcotopia isn’t the goal for most of us. A safe distribution that returns the profit to the people is.
    As for that “Evil profit motive”. (Lew has a flair for the dramatic). Picture yourself in a bar on a Friday night. Unless things have changed dramatically, I would bet you will see guys ordering another beer that would never get served at a Plcb store. tipsy people tip better, and those that get shut off rarely tip at all. From my own experience those that get shut off usually start taking their business elsewhere.
    Jon’s comment on raising beer taxes is refreshing but it’s easier said than done. They have a powerful lobby and Lew and others that make a living off the drinks industry began shaking their pens like Booga-booga sticks when Rendell tried to raise it a lousy quarter. Would have been pennies a case. Probably why it hasn’t been raised since 1954(?) even though it has lost 9o% of it’s real value. The industry and their shills dearly love the gallonage tax. Speaking of taxes, Lew once wrote he would gladly take a 2% state income tax hike if we could get rid of the stores and eliminate the alcohol tax. You would have to spend over 10% of your income on liquor just to break even! Wow! I’d like to hear Jon and Lew debate the tax issue.

    • Lew Bryson says:

      So…you DO want state-controlled bars and union bartenders staffing them! Good of you to finally admit your hunger for statewide control of everything, everywhere. What’s next? Candy stores? SAVE THE CHILDREN! Gas stations? SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT!

      • John Rzodkiewicz says:

        If you can try to stick to the subject. Your arguments, written in your bombastic drink writers style, make as much sense as me asking you if you favor assault weapon and heroin sales at convenience stores since they collectively cause less damage than alcohol. Nice try.

        • Lew Bryson says:

          We’re not going to do this, or at least I’m not. You say the real danger from DUI is people driving home from bars (with no supporting evidence, of course, but that’s par for you); so I ask if you’re in favor of CONTROL of bars, too. You say there’s a lot of people being overserved in bars. I naturally infer from that that you DO want control in bars. Not off the subject at all: I’m not the one talking about assault weapons (beautifully sensitive at this time, John) or heroin: I’m talking about bars, and then simply asking where you’d want to stop this ridiculous idea of government retail control. The ONLY reason it’s even possible is because of judicial interpretation of the 21st Amendment.

          But you know all this. This is a dance you and I have danced many times. You still don’t have an answer to this simple question: if control of retail off-premise sales of wine and liquor is such a wonderful idea, why aren’t you in favor of control of ALL sales of alcohol? Are you, or are you not?

  4. John Rzodkiewicz says:

    Lew’s last statement concerning BAC and DUI is simply not true.

    • Lew Bryson says:

      First, comparing anything to the current experience in Washington State is moot. The situation is fluid and changing; it’s going to take at least a year to settle out. It’s also a lousy law that was the result of bad compromises and a greedy Legislature; most people in Washington figure it’s going to be changed. In short: apples and oranges, since any PA law is guaranteed to be different (that’s the beauty of the 21st Amendment).

      Over 10% of your income to cover a 2% increase in the state income tax? State Store clerks’ wages must be worse than you say they are, John. A 2% increase would bump the rate from 3.07% to 3.13%. For someone making $50,000, that would be a…$3.50 a year (amounting to a total of $1,570). That’s money going directly to the general fund, and it’s levied — FAIRLY — on all Pennsylvania wage-earners, not just drinkers.

      It’s just a talking point anyway: the liquor tax will never go away, and everyone knows it. But it sure would be good to see the State Stores go away to be replaced by something that serves all Pennsylvanians rather than John’s favorite drinker, Mister and Mrs. Least Common Denominator.

      “From my own experience those that get shut off usually start taking their business elsewhere.” What a beauty of irony, considering that John’s experience as a State Store clerk never includes customers that CAN take their business elsewhere. We’re stuck with one choice, no matter how we’re treated: the State Store System. Every store is the same, and you are forbidden by law to buy outside the State. We don’t even have the option of buying outside the State and then paying the taxes.

      On the BAC/DUI numbers, my apologies: it’s 0.15, not 0.12. But then feast your eyes on this, which only makes the point more strongly:

      In 2010, 70% of drivers involved in drunk driving fatalities had a a BAC level of .15 or higher – a trend that has remained relatively unchanged for more than a decade. (Source: NHTSA/FARS, 2012)

      Three percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2010 had a prior DWI conviction within the past three years. Among these drivers with a prior DWI conviction 42% were involved in a fatal crash and had a BAC level of 0.15 or higher at the time of the crash. (Source: NHTSA/FARS, 2012)

      The median BAC level remains twice the legal limit at 0.16, and drivers with a BAC level of .15 or higher in fatal crashes were nine times more likely to have a prior conviction for driving while impaired than non-drinking drivers. (Source: NHTSA, FARS and Traffic Safety Facts “Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” 2012)

      So my last statement wasn’t true…by 3/100ths of a percentage point. Again, my apologies. But the point remains correct.

      (And you’re a thief: the “booga-booga stick” line is mine, as you well know, and I named Wendell W. Young IV as the stick-shaker. But I wouldn’t expect you to credit me.)

      • John Rzodkiewicz says:

        My point was that DUI penalties do increase at different thresholds of BAC . And your tax comment and the ensuing discussion on your facebook page clearly showed you to mean an additional 2% added to the state income tax.

        • Lew Bryson says:

          Sincere apologies, John. I was NOT aware of the increased penalties for higher BAC on DUI in PA. That’s great, my hat’s off to the usually sluggard legislature.

          But if you somehow thought I meant that I’d be in favor of a state income tax raised to 5.13%…you’re stoned. And that’s definitely not legal in PA.

          • John Rzodkiewicz says:

            Your right Lew, I must have got Booga-booga stick from you. I looked it up and the correct term is Ooga-booga.