In Texas, there are dry counties and wet counties. This signifies if the counties allow or prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages. What is the purpose of these laws and regulations, do they keep people safer? A review of traffic data shows that counties that sell alcohol have distinct differences in alcohol related accidents from those that don’t. However, not in the way that opponents of alcohol sales and distribution might think.
Texas has more alcohol-related traffic accidents than any other state. Of course, it has more people driving more miles than almost any other state. At the same time, California has a larger population driving more miles of driving than any other state, yet it has fewer alcohol-related crashes than Texas. However, there’s one very important difference between the two states: Texas has a large number of dry (prohibition) counties whereas California has none.
Research has long demonstrated that the existence of dry counties increases alcohol-related automotive accidents and fatalities. For example, a recent study of about 39,000 alcohol-related traffic accidents in wet compared to dry counties in Kentucky found that a higher proportion of dry counties’ residents are involved in such crashes.
The analysis suggests that residents of dry counties have to drive farther from their homes to consume alcohol, thus increasing impaired driving exposure. The 2007 statistics, compiled by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, show that dry counties had a fatality rate in drunk driving accidents of 5.7 per 10,000 people. Conversely, wet counties had 2.7 fatalities per 10,000 people.
Texas receives extra federal funding to permit it to clamp down on drunk drivers and is dramatically increasing punishments in an effort to reduce DWI/DUI. Perhaps it should also eliminate one of the causes of drunk driving — dry counties.