Sunday, May 19, 2013

Wine, beer and cocktail lovers: Our lifestyle is threatened

Friends, Americans, pursuers of happiness, lend me your ears.

Last week the National Transportation Safety Board recommended forcing states to lower the legal blood-alcohol level for DUI to 0.05.

I'm asking you, all of you, to help in the fight against this. Here's how.

The argument in favor of lowering the limit is strongly emotional: It may save lives. Maybe. But even one life is precious. Blah blah. Lowering the national speed limit to 50 mph would also save lives; so would outlawing Coca-Cola or margarine. Or, dare I say it, handguns.

Still, it's hard, politically, to counter emotional arguments. I haven't figured out how to do so without sounding like a cavalier cad.

But we must. We must learn to transmit the message that drinking wine or beer with dinner, or a cocktail before, is a part of a healthy, adult lifestyle; one of the gifts given to us by God; a part of civilization as long as there has been civilization. We need a way to say this succinctly, sympathetically and effectively or we will be beaten.

As a country, the US -- where 1/3 of adults report that they never drink alcohol -- is uniquely susceptible to moral-sounding laws that are terrible ideas.

Prohibition, for example. The great majority of politicians who voted for Prohibition drank themselves, but they couldn't afford to publicly oppose a law that would reduce alcoholism, spouse abuse, cirrhosis, societal breakdown, etc. The law passed because its opponents didn't have modern organization and messaging capabilities; they didn't know what a national image campaign was. But we do.

How serious is the threat to a healthy adult lifestyle, enjoying a glass or two of wine with our meals? France lowered its DUI standard to 0.05 a few years ago, and the law has been devastating for countryside restaurants and the wine industry. The entire culture of rural fine dining in France has been irreversibly altered. In fact, some people in the wine industry say the entire centuries-old culture of France has been altered, and not in a good way.

I'm not yet prepared to defend myself on this issue against MADD and other zealots. And I'm just a blogger; I have nothing at stake other than one of life's fundamental pleasures.

But for the industry, there's a lot at stake. Everyone who works in messaging -- PR, advertising, political consulting -- needs to think about this, now.

In the coming days I plan to contact my friends at the Wine Institute and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association. They are not natural allies, but both of them will lose business if this law passes. I don't know anyone at the National Restaurant Association, but I'm going to contact them too.

What I'm going to ask is, "What are you doing about this proposed harsh new national DUI law?" I'll also offer my help, for what it's worth.

This is a good time for them to prepare for the media anyway. I am sympathetic on this issue. Others will be calling, and they will not be. So I'll be interested to learn what these organizations are preparing to say.

In the meantime, dear reader and wine/spirits/beer lover, please think on this yourself. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments. We need to put our heads together on this. Our lives aren't at stake, but our culture is.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


WomenWine said...

Most incidents involving alcohol and driving (that is the issue here, right?) also involve drugs and the drivers are greatest in the 21-24 category.

In cases where the abuser is older, they usually have had a DUI on their record.

What does this suggest? That younger people abuse alcohol because it has been the 'forbidden fruit' of their youth. And, that someone with a previous DUI should not be served alcohol in a restaurant or bar.

If the drinking age were lowered to 16 from 21 (way before most are driving) then it having wine with a meal probably would become more routine and more natural to a healthy attitude towards alcohol.

To restrict the desires of the majority for the sake of the minority is never good. I, for one, would like to see some sort of sticker on a drivers license indicating previous abuse (to be checked in order to refuse service) then have those of us who enjoy alcohol responsibly pay the price.

We know what the net result of this is going to be if it passes - more arrests for DUIs. With the average cost in CA of $15K to resolve this issue and the restricted driving, AA meetings, etc. this is surely to discourage people from partaking outside their home...or walking.

Tom said...


Extremely well put! Getting wine drinkers to defend their interests is not easy. But if prodded and if given the opportunity to express their interests...they will. This is a matter for the industry, pundits, and consumers to take up.

Matt J - Sacramento said...

From CNN:
The number of alcohol-related highway fatalities, meanwhile, dropped from 20,000 in 1980 to 9,878 in 2011, the NTSB said.

From Wikipedia:
1980 Population of USA - 226,545,805
Current Population of USA - 315,882,000

I could see both sides of this issue spinning those statistics but considering our huge population growth during the last 30 years we've done an outstanding job with DUI awareness and safety. Obviously, we need to keep the cultural disdain for drunk driving going. However, I don't believe a move to .05 will have an overall positive effect on society or culture and it probably won't prevent DUI fatalities.

.08 is low enough that people have to consciously regulate and think about their alcohol intake before driving or engaging in any "complex" activity. For many people, .08 means no more than 1 drink per hour or longer. I would argue that .08 is already a borderline limit above no tolerance.

Most DUI crashes don't involve someone who has had one or two drinks throughout an evening and this reduction to .05 is only going to scare those responsible drinkers from drinking anything at all. The habitual law breakers and drunks are still going to guzzle booze and kill people - this proposed law adjustment won't change their behavior.

.05 will hurt the wine, beer, tourism and restaurant industries without deterring high-risk alcohol abusers from getting behind the wheel. What .05 really signals is another national movement for No Tolerance and alcohol abstinence.

OR - the feds calculated the increase in DUI fines and that potential $ pot was too sweet to ignore.

Unknown said...


Political philosophy has a way of thinking about these matters. Roughly, the argument is that from an impartial point of view there is no justification for being so risk averse as to endorse a policy like this.

I have a post up that makes the argument in more detail at