Devil’s Advocate: Drinkers on early morning roads are dangerous

In Devil's Advocate, Opinion

With the many people in California who begin their day at dawn, a 4 a.m. last call would put more drunk drivers on the road when they get kicked out of the bar as the innocent early birds start their day.

Weekday traffic gets steadily heavier at about 5 a.m.

The hours between 1 and 3 a.m. are known as the emerald gates because there is very little traffic and lights will turn green quickly for cars stopped at intersections. This is the time of night when drunk drivers are less likely to affect innocent victims.

About three quarters of DUI accidents happen between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., while about a quarter happen in early hours before 6 a.m. It’s a stringent timeline that is based around the current cycle of bars opening and closing.

If last call moves back two hours, this timeline will need to as well.

There will probably still be the high risk time around midnight, but then second wave of drivers hitting the roads from last call, which usually hits at about 2:30 a.m., will now be from about 4:30-5:30 a.m. In the 24/7 world we live in, there are always people heading to work.

The times when there are the least commuters on the road is from midnight to 5 a.m., then there is a spike followed by steady growth until the full-blown rush hour begins around 7:30 a.m.

To ensure drunk drivers are off the roads in time for early commuters to make it safely to work, last call in bars must remain at 2 a.m.

Strangely this proposed law goes after extending last call only in bars and nightclubs. Liquor stores and grocery stores would still have to stop selling alcohol at 2 a.m.

It’s strange because with the California public drinking laws, alcohol purchased at these stores must be consumed on private property. If someone is drinking in a home, there are many more possibilities to stay safe.

For example, people that want to purchase late night or early morning drinks, and stay in their homes or friends’ homes have a place they can sleep off the effects before getting kicked out onto the roads.

At a bar, typically there is a last call and within an hour patrons are shown the curb. A bartender may offer to call a cab for the drunks, but a bar does not assume the responsibility of people drinking there and then driving home.

The amount of time a person can spend alert in a day is restricted by how much their brain and body can withstand. For the average person on a diurnal body clock, at about 11 p.m. alertness and overall performance steadily decreases.

The time from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. is shown to be the most naturally alert time for diurnal animals, including humans.

If drunk drivers hit the roads from 4 to 5 a.m. the people heading into work aren’t even fully alert yet and their driving performance might suffer. We might have masses of the second most dangerous drivers on the road already at those hours; the sleepy or not fully awake driver. Some people are ending their graveyard shift, while others are starting their early morning one.

Both of those scenarios, which effect everyone who has a late-night shift, make for poor driving skills. Add a large amount of drunk drivers into that mix, and its begging for catastrophe.

The proposed law should attempt to extend store hours for liquor first, because those are the people drinking mostly in homes. If DUI rates rise dramatically from that, then it should be apparent that extending last call in bars would do the same.

The only way last call can safely get extended or removed is if bars will take responsibility for the people leaving the bar. Most people that drive would rather not walk and may refuse to leave their car somewhere, so patrons would need reliable transportation to and away from their place of intoxication.

With rare exception, bars and restaurants aren’t doing that, many hanging signs say no overnight parking.

Rather than paying for a cab and getting their car towed, a drunk leaving the bar is more likely to leave in the car they came in.

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