There has been much talk recently about how late bars should be allowed to stay open in Erie County. Currently, Erie County requires bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 4 a.m. Bars are not required to stay open that late, and have the ability to close earlier if they choose. Last week, the Erie County Clerk proposed limiting the bar closing time to 2 a.m. In his proposal, he claimed that doing so would help reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic accidents and fatalities. However, none of the data I found supports that contention.
According to New York State STOP DWI statistics, Erie County has one of the lowest levels of DWI-related fatalities in New York State, ranking 48th out of 62 counties. Furthermore, Erie County ranks in the bottom third of all NY counties for alcohol-related traffic accidents, all while playing host to New York State’s second largest city. While I agree that we must do our best to eliminate drunk driving, forcing bars to close at 2 a.m. will do little to solve that problem. In fact, it could potentially have the opposite effect. A 2 a.m. closing time puts more lives at risk as there are more drivers on the road at that time. Those who choose to drink and drive will make that decision regardless of what time the bars are required to close.
In addition to the Clerk’s proposal not being supported by data, I do not believe that the Legislature should be so quick to overregulate small businesses. After releasing a statement last week in opposition to the proposal, I received quite a bit of feedback. The vast majority of residents voicing their opinion agree that business owners should be allowed to decide for themselves. One resident emailed me saying, “I think when a bar, or any other business, closes should be up to the owner of that business and not the government. NY is over regulated on all levels of government so it is nice to see an elected official not jump at the chance for more regulation.” I agree. Too often we see government making arbitrary rules for businesses based on false or incomplete data.
As part of this discussion, I also commented on the need for alternative, affordable and accessible transportation options to help reduce drunk driving and alcohol-related accidents. Improved access to public transportation and the availability of other options like car sharing services should be explored by both Erie County and the City of Buffalo. Car sharing services such as Uber have proven successful in reducing alcohol-related traffic incidents elsewhere in the country, including New York City. Instead of regulating small business owners, we should be finding alternatives that could truly reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents and fatalities in Western New York. I believe it's time we stop regulating small business owners under the guise of "solutions" that aren't supported by facts, and find alternatives that could truly reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents and fatalities in Western New York.