Different states have different drinking laws, but one thing they all have in common is ‘last call,’ a cut off time when stores and bars are no longer allowed to serve alcohol.
It’s 1:30 am in Phoenix, Arizona, one of the least pedestrian cities in the US. Bars are preparing to close at two o’clock in the morning. Patrons have two options. They can drink as much as possible in the remaining half-hour, or they can get in their cars, already inebriated, and drive to the nearest store to buy more booze to continue the night elsewhere.
Either way, the hour between 1:30 am and 2:30 am is unquestionably the most dangerous time to be on the road. These folks who are looking for a good time aren’t walking, there’s no available public transportation, and few are calling for a cab. Be assured, they’re behind the wheel.
In other major cities, such as New York, last call is at 4 AM, but people can return a few hours later. Those who want to continue the night find a nearby restaurant to wait out the clock. Those who want to continue drinking will find a way.
Interestingly, a last call is a public safety hazard. What’s far, far worse are the so-called “dry counties.” This is where entire counties, in states like Kentucky and Tennessee, ban the sale of liquor entirely.
Alcoholics, who are already the most likely to drive under the influence, do drive across one or more counties for a night of drinking, and then right back home again, often causing fatalities and serious injury.
Instead of arbitrarily enforcing times and zones where the sale and purchase of alcohol is prohibited, what if there was no last call? What if citizens could go to a bar anytime they wanted and leave whenever they wanted, without the pressures of a cut off time?
Public safety could be a lot better. Instead of patrons all over the state leaving the bars and driving home during the same time period, they could leave at a more staggered rate, thereby placing a smaller number of dangerous drivers on the road.
Cities such as Miami, Memphis, New Orleans, and Las Vegas permit the serving of alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no statistical differences in crime when compared to cities of similar size and demographics.
There’s no reason to expect that lifting the sales bans would lead to increased public drunkenness. If someone wants to drink at three or five o’clock in the morning on a Sunday, then they’re going to find a way. At least if they have a nearby bar or liquor store to make their purchases at they won’t be driving all over town while intoxicated.