The Great American Beer Festival and events throughout the Denver area were not the only beer events last week. The National Beer Wholesalers Association held their annual convention at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas on September 22-24. I'll be giving a more in depth report on the Craft Brewers Pavilion and the rest of the convention online or in the final issue of The New Brewer in 2009. One interesting feature of the convention was a panel discussion called “Because Alcohol is Different.” Pamela Erickson of Public Action Management detailed some of the negative public issues due to deregulation of alcohol in the U.K., including the allowance of alcohol to be sold as a loss leader—less than cost to bring people into a store. The result according to Erickson is cheap alcohol that leads to overconsumption and such a significant gap from on-premise prices that the pub industry is declining rapidly in the U.K.
Chuck Hurley of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) discussed that MADD has the position of seeking legislation that would require a mandatory ignition interlock device for all first offenders with a BAC of .08 or higher. Groups like the American Beverage Licensees and American Beverage institute recognize that far more serious issues are caused by high BAC offenders and multiple DUI offenders. Ten states have now passed mandatory interlocks for first-time DUI offenders (read NYTimes article Alcohol Interlocks Are Gaining Traction). These groups note that the companies that provide ignition interlock will have technology that will have a margin for error. If someone who is above .08 faces an interlock device that is calibrated too high gets into an accident, the interlock provider could be liable. A more likely scenario is that the interlock devices will have a margin of error that protects the company from liability. Someone who may actually have a 0.5 or 0.3 BAC could register as a 0.8 due to low equipment calibration, leading to misinformation about what level of alcohol consumption and circumstances constitute driving under the influence. The Brewers Association has a calculator that can help determine appropriate levels, but there are factors such as food and water consumption and how tired someone may be that are also factors. No one believes that drunk driving should be tolerated, but one wonders if the solution can be better achieved through education rather than fear and incorrect data.