Bill takes creative, not critical, approach to solving DWIs

Dahl.jpg As the new year begins, it is a time for reflection, for many reasons. Many of us center on our faith and family and lives, but also on our dedication and responsibility to each other. House Bill 68 is a perfect example of taking responsibility one step further by truly watching out for our friends and patrons. And the state House agrees, as they recently passed the bill and sent it to the Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, this legislation will help reduce our driving under the influence of alcohol problem. The premise behind Rokeberg’s proposal is that people fail to find an alternative means of transportation when they are legally intoxicated because they do not wish to incur the cost of a cab, risk vandalism to their vehicle, or be hindered by retrieval of their vehicle the next morning.

With no perceived alternative, they opt to drive home intoxicated. Many arrive safely at home, but for those who are arrested, or cause an accident or injury, the consequences surpass the negligible cost of a cab or time spent returning the next day sober to retrieve their car.

Proposed by the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and Downtown License Beverage Association, the concept is to provide a means through which an intoxicated individual, hesitant to drive because he or she is above the legal limit, can ask an employee at the participating bar or restaurant to request cab service for himself and his vehicle.

The participating cab company will dispatch a cab with an extra driver who will subsequently drive the patron’s vehicle home at the same time the intoxicated patron is driven home in the cab. Not a bad idea, and best of all, public safety is not compromised.

Not only does this solution instill a partnership mentality between community, patron and business, but it also reminds residents of the fact that the hospitality industry cares about your safety. Anchorage Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant & Retailers Association, for example, wholeheartedly endorses the concept. And many establishments have endorsed the bill and are eager to participate upon enactment of the program. In the end, it’s a win-win for everyone.

One concern that has arisen stems from the potential for a lawsuit if the cab company employee, who drives the individual’s vehicle home, causes an accident from negligence. The context of the bill is intended to hold harmless the driver, cab company and licensed establishment if intentional misconduct is not a factor. In other words, no one will be liable for acting responsible. To that end, we must formulate effective insurance language in the bill to maintain the integrity of the no-liability intent.

During troubled times, members of society tend to find it easier to cast the first stone, rather than seek lasting solutions to issues like alcohol abuse and DWI prevention. The easiest approach is to criticize our laws and legislators, and be reactive, rather than proactive. Or, mandate harsher penalties and fill our correctional system beyond its capacity while increasing our need for more taxes.

But sometimes, no matter how hard one tries, it is impossible to understand the mind-set of why people do what they do. Drunks don’t make thought-out decisions. They act and react. Driving under the influence is no exception.

The solution lies in curbing behavior with quality treatment and education, or as an alternative, preventing behavior like driving under the influence from happening.

HB68 eliminates the consequence of a DWI, at the same time partnering the hospitality industry with the cab industry and with the insurance industry, in concert with law enforcement at the city and state level. The innovators and sponsor of this bill should be commended for a novel and positive approach to a growing problem that doesn’t need to exist.

Let 2002 be the year of understanding, neighbor helping neighbor. Let this year be one in which we stop casting stones and instead embrace, using the stones to build a bridge of cooperation. HB68 can be the first step.

Frank Dahl is president of the Anchorage Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant & Retailers Association. He can be reached at 907-243-8340.

02/03/2002 - 8:00pm