Legalization of happy hour draws concern from Illinois safety advocates

The reinstatement of happy hour in Illinois may result in more people drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and endangering others by driving impaired.

Earlier this year, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a bill that permits Illinois bars and restaurants to resume offering happy hour drink prices. According to The Chicago Tribune, these specials had been banned for over 25 years due to safety concerns. Unfortunately, critics of this change worry that it may result in more drunk driving accidents, injuries and fatalities.

A troubling track record

Safety advocates worry that happy hour encourages people to consume excessive amounts of alcohol over short periods of time. Many happy hour deals offer patrons more drinks at cheaper prices, promoting excessive drinking. Additionally, the limited duration of these deals may drive many people to drink quickly to make the most of the deal. This could result in more impaired driving.

Opponents of the new law note that when happy hours were last allowed in Illinois, drunk drivers caused a significant proportion of state traffic deaths. In 1988, one year before the ban took effect, 49.6 percent of all traffic fatalities in Illinois involved intoxicated drivers. The ban was initially enacted to address this high rate of alcohol-related deaths.

As of 2013, the proportion of DUI-related auto accident deaths in the state had fallen to 32 percent. Safety advocates worry that this rate may increase now that happy hour specials are again allowed.

New safety measures

The new law includes a few provisions that seek to reduce the risk of alcohol-related accidents. Servers who handle alcohol are now required to undergo training to help them recognize the signs of intoxication and determine when to cut patrons off. Additionally, bars are not allowed to offer the following types of specials, which may all encourage binge drinking:

  • Offering two-for-one drink pricing and other volume specials
  • Providing unlimited drinks for a fixed price outside of private events
  • Staging drinking games
  • Giving alcoholic drinks away as prizes for games

Several bar and restaurant owners interviewed by The Chicago Tribune have stated that they don't intend to offer happy hour specials. Many cited safety concerns about creating a dangerous environment for their servers, neighborhoods or the public at large. Still, many other owners expressed enthusiasm about reintroducing happy hour deals.

Outlook for local drivers

Unfortunately, even if drunk driving accident and fatality rates remain stable, these outcomes still remain a significant threat to people in Illinois. According to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, in 2013 alone, 322 people lost their lives in deadly car crashes involving drunk drivers. Even more people may have suffered serious or disabling injuries in these unnecessary crashes.

Although state laws may not currently go far enough to prevent DUI accidents, they do provide forms of redress for the victims of these accidents. As a direct violation of state laws, drunk driving may constitute negligence if it causes physical harm to other people. Consequently, anyone who has been injured in an alcohol-related accident may benefit from discussing seeking compensation with an attorney.