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Madd & Doggies

by Jennifer Rosen

For Colorado wine lovers, July 1st was the best of times and the worst of times. It brought us two goodies: wine doggy-bags and in-store tastings, but they came tacked on to House Bill 1021, which lowers the drunk-driving threshold from 0.1% to 0.08%.

Ever bid a sad farewell to unfinished wine in a restaurant? Or choke down more than you want because, dammit, you paid for it? Now you can cork it and take it home. The doggy-bag provision was a concession to restaurateurs, worried that the new DUI limit would scare people away from ordering bottles at all.

The state doesn’t care about open containers, but some local jurisdictions do, so restaurants are being told to shove the cork deep, seal it with tape or paraffin, bag it, box it, hogtie and handcuff it, put it in your trunk, and generally fix it so no one short of Houdini will ever open it again.

Do you trust me enough to buy a $25 wine just because I recommended it? You won’t have to, now that we’ve joined 23 other states that allow in-store tastings. Don’t expect a free-for all. Local governments can nix the practice. Tasting is allowed only five hours a day, four days a week, 104 times a year. Samples will be 1 oz for beer and wine, ½ oz for spirits and limit: four per customer.

Nevertheless, where there is wine, there will be MADD spokeswomen panicking. “All of a sudden liquor stores will become bars!” says Christy Le Lait of the Colorado chapter of Mothers Against Drug Driving, “In theory, you can have four samples, get in your car, drive down the road and hit another liquor store.”

Chill, Christy. Statistically, sampling does not cause accidents. California wine-country highways 29, 12 and parts of 101 have wine bars every 200 yards. Yet they have no more accidents than other highways of equal density.

But MADD’s real agenda these days is prohibition, not highway safety. Their tireless lobbying led to the current hostage situation where states can’t have their federal highway funds unless they adopt the new, lower blood-alcohol (BAC) standard. Yet the effect of this change on road accidents is negligible.

How many highway deaths are caused by drinking? Hard to say. An accident is officially classified as “alcohol related” if anyone involved - driver, passenger, pedestrian or bicyclist - has any alcohol in their system. That means if a totally sober driver runs over and kills a pedestrian who’s had a beer, it’s counted as an “alcohol related” death.

Of those “alcohol related” deaths, very few involved low BACs (defined as 0.10 or less). Only 8.9% of fatalities in 1996, for instance. That’s 3,803 people, or 0.00001434012% of the US population at the time. In the same year, 25,062 - more than six times as many people - died in road accidents involving no alcohol at all. Targeting low-BAC drivers, then, would seem to be a waste of time.

It could even be dangerous. Over half of drinking drivers killed in accidents had BACs over 0.20. Cops busy field-testing, handcuffing and hauling in low-BAC, unimpaired drivers (six to eight hundred thousand of them a year) are not free to nab the truly dangerous drunk swerving down the road.

States that have adopted 0.08 don’t show any corresponding lowering of highway accidents. They are, however, arresting more of their citizens.

MADD isn’t done. They’ve got Illinois considering a move to 0.06 and are brazenly pushing for 0.04 and 0.02. If highway safety were truly their mission, they might change their acronym to MASS and go after seatbelt scofflaws; 2/3 of people killed in cars weren’t wearing theirs.

My advice, meanwhile, is to spit at those tastings and use your doggy bag. Look at the bright side. If they manage to get the BAC threshold down to 0.06, they might have to grant another concession. How about liquor sales on Sunday?

© Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Jennifer Rosen - Jennifer Rosen, award-winning wine writer, educator and author of Waiter, There’s a Horse in My Wine, and The Cork Jester’s Guide to Wine, writes the weekly wine column for the Rocky Mountain News and articles for magazines around the world. Jennifer speaks French and Italian, mangles German, Spanish and Arabic, and works off the job perks with belly dance, tightrope and trapeze. Read her columns and sign up for her weekly newsletter at:

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