As a way to reduce alcohol-impaired driving, it would seem helpful to recruit those who serve alcoholic beverages to do so in ways that reduce impairment, or at least to stop serving drinks to patrons who are visibly intoxicated. In many states, serving someone who’s visibly intoxicated is a criminal offense and can invite a lawsuit if the patron later harms themselves or others.
Unfortunately, such laws are rarely enforced, perhaps because it is widely seen as infeasible or inefficient. Studies in various locations across the U.S. consistently show high rates of alcohol service to pseudo-intoxicated patrons (field staff who are trained to appear intoxicated). The most common mechanism to encourage responsible beverage service (RBS) is to provide training to alcohol servers and managers. Typically, such training includes the laws that govern serving behavior, the effects of alcohol on the body, recognizing signs of intoxication, and strategies for refusing service to someone who displays those signs.
California became the 25th and most recent state to mandate such training for all who service alcohol for consumption on premise (e.g., bars, restaurants, clubs). The Responsible Beverage Service Training Act in 2017 will become effective in July 1 of 2022, having been postponed during the pandemic. Since roughly half of DUI offenders were leaving licensed outlets, there is hope that training will be effective, but past research has reported mixed results.
One study by Holder and Wagenaar estimated that in Oregon, the first state to mandate RBS training, impaired crash rates dropped by 23% by the third year after implementation, a surprisingly large effect. This PIRE NIAAA grant will include a replication of that study. Going beyond that, we will address the question of whether the training improves serving behavior by employing a randomized trial in which an online RBS training program already known to be effective will be used as a “benchmark” against which a comparison group of “usual and customary” practices will be measured for the efficacy of their training. The grant will also include a state-wide survey of owners and managers that will help identify obstacles or facilitators of the new server training law.
The mixed results of RBS as a prevention strategy tell us that the intervention has the potential to be effective, but we may not know how best to implement it. Findings of this study will have implications for state and local regulatory policies regarding RBS training, for its being adopted by other states and local jurisdictions, and for future research on the effectiveness of RBS training.