Question Remains in California ‘Last Call? Law Debate: Why Have a Law At All?

A new proposal would allow California bars to serve alcohol later into the night. If approved, barkeeps in the state will be able to yell out “last call” at 4 a.m. instead of 2 a.m., as the AP reports:

The last call for drinks is 2 a.m. in California, but one lawmaker believes that’s just too early to set down the shot glasses and beer steins.

State Sen. Mark Leno’s proposal to let the liquor flow until 4 a.m. as a way to draw more tourists – and with them more revenue and jobs – is already spawning a sharp debate from Sacramento to watering holes in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Leno said the measure would make the state more competitive with other hotspots like New York, Las Vegas and Miami that serve alcohol later into the wee hours of the morning or 24 hours a day.

Night-spot owners say a later last call will be good for business, but law enforcement officials argue that it increases the chances that cities will see more public drunkenness, violence, drunken driving and possibly fatalities.

There are cities in the US which allow citizens to drink 24 hours a day, such as Miami, Memphis, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. But every top 10 most car- accident-prone city but one has a last call law.

  • Washington, DC: 2 a.m.; 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday night
  • Baltimore, MD: 2 a.m.
  • Providence, RI: 1 a.m.; 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday night
  • Hialeah, FL: 12 a.m.
  • Glendale, CA: 2 a.m.
  • Philadelphia, PA: 2 a.m.
  • Alexandria, VA.: 1:30 a.m.
  • Newark, NJ: 3 a.m.
  • Miami, FL: none
  • San Francisco, CA: 2 a.m.

Two of the top 5 most expensive cities to insure your car are 24-hour drinking cities: New Orleans and Miami.

A writer for the Torontoist, Patrick Metzger, claims that in the first four months after the U.K. moved last call hours back, and did away with other liquor laws, “serious violent crime fell by 21% nationwide, and much more in some areas.”

The San Francisco Late Night Association claims that data from the U.S. National Traffic Safety Administration shows that “states with last call laws of later than 2 a.m. have fewer driving deaths related to alcohol than states which require patrons to leave establishments at 2 a.m. or earlier.”

As one blogger points out, last call laws can have unintended consequences and create situations where:

Patrons have two options. They can drink as much as possible in the remaining half-hour, or they can get in their cars, already inebriated, and drive to the nearest store to buy more booze to continue the night elsewhere.

Nevertheless, a site called Alcohol Justice, which calls itself a watchdog against “Big Alcohol,” makes several arguments against moving last call back two hours in California, including:

  • There are few if any mass transportation options in California from 2- 4:30 am.
  • State Highway Patrol and police will have to monitor DUIs and drunk driving much later into the night.

Bars and other businesses don’t, and shouldn’t, have to set their hours around a city’s mass transit schedules. And as Radley Balko has written, law enforcement agencies should focus on reckless driving, not having big enough staffs to set up DUI checkpoints across cities:

If our ultimate goals are to reduce driver impairment and maximize highway safety, we should be punishing reckless driving. It shouldn’t matter if it’s caused by alcohol, sleep deprivation, prescription medication, text messaging, or road rage. If lawmakers want to stick it to dangerous drivers who threaten everyone else on the road, they can dial up the civil and criminal liability for reckless driving, especially in cases that result in injury or property damage.

Doing away with the specific charge of drunk driving sounds radical at first blush, but it would put the focus back on impairment, where it belongs. It might repair some of the civil-liberties damage done by the invasive powers the government says it needs to catch and convict drunk drivers. If the offense were reckless driving rather than drunk driving, for example, repeated swerving over the median line would be enough to justify the charge. There would be no need for a cop to jam a needle in your arm alongside a busy highway.

Scrapping the DWI offense in favor of better enforcement of reckless driving laws would also bring some logical consistency to our laws, which treat a driver with a BAC of 0.08 much more harshly than, say, a driver distracted by his kids or a cell phone call, despite similar levels of impairment. The punishable act should be violating road rules or causing an accident, not the factors that led to those offenses. Singling out alcohol impairment for extra punishment isn’t about making the roads safer. It’s about a lingering hostility toward demon rum.


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