Massachusetts Insurance Companies Resist Law Requiring Valets to Deny Keys to Suspected Drunk Drivers
The Boston City Council proposed an ordinance on March 15, 2012 that would require valets to deny keys to those suspected of being drunk. In response, insurance company representatives have expressed concern that such an ordinance would raise costs and place an unreasonable amount of responsibility on valet attendants, according to the Boston Globe. One valet company owner told the Globe that valet attendants do not interact with patrons for a long enough period of time, often only seconds, to determine whether the operator is too drunk to drive. Like these others who are concerned, this Massachusetts OUI / DUI / DWI attorney has questions about this proposal.
This proposed ordinance seems to be a hot potato game of pass the liability. Thus, valet attendants, who interact with patrons for a matter of seconds and who are untrained in detecting drunkenness, might be more inclined to notify police of "suspected" drunk-drivers. Could information relative to what is typically a 3-5 second interaction (according to a Globe source) be enough to provide a reasonable suspicion for police to stop a driver?
The next issue involves the distinction between drinking and operating under the influence. It is not a crime to have a drink and drive. It is presumptively a crime to drive while having a BAC of .08 or more. It is a crime to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The proposed ordinance blurs that distinction and would effectively deprive anyone who has had a drink, regardless of BAC, of having the keys to their own car.
All of this may lead to the issue of paternalism v. personal autonomy in the context of drinking and driving. Certainly, drunk-driving is a problem in society. However, can one not make an un-coerced decision not to drive after having a drink? Does one need a valet attendant, an acquaintance of 3-5 seconds, to tell one that driving isn't an option? To what extent is it proper to use the instruments of law to force one into doing that which is "right" or "wise"?
In response to the last question above, our criminal law in Massachusetts is already designed to deter drinking and driving by imposing very severe, broad-brush penalties. If we need valet attendants to help enforce it, then perhaps those strict "deterrent" aspects are not working.