A coalition of Napa residents has formed to push for a law in Napa that would require training for those who serve alcohol.
The goal is to focus prevention efforts on alcohol purveyors as well as individuals who drink, said Shirin Vakharia, prevention coordinator for Napa County DUI Task Force. The coalition seeks to recruit community members outside of government to get involved in the issue, she said.
“We can’t address community problems without community involvement,” she said.
The coalition met for the first time Thursday. Seven people attended, including the group’s leaders. The Napa County DUI task force, a separate group, formed in May 2008 to address drunk driving by bringing together leaders in government and law enforcement.
It found that Napa County ranks eighth in the state in the number of drunk-driving-related crashes. Vakharia said. The city of Napa has the 10th-highest drunk driving-related collision rate when compared to 106 similar cities, she said.
The task force also conducted a survey, finding that 35 percent of people arrested for driving under the influence were drinking at a licensed establishment such as a bar, restaurant or winery before their arrests.
The task force is attempting to get citizens involved in changing the environment where people drink, in order to reduce drunk driving rates, Vakharia said. One way of doing this is offering “responsible beverage service” training for business’ employees who serve and sell alcohol.
The training discourages overconsumption by encouraging establishments not to offer inexpensive drink specials or by changing happy hours to offer food specials instead of inexpensive drinks.
It is against the law for a business to serve someone who is obviously intoxicated, but many employees don’t realize this, Vakharia said.
Nonprofit organizations or volunteers at special events don’t understand the issues that come with serving a “high-risk product,” Vakharia said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that responsible beverage service programs cost about $70 per licensed driver, but save about $200 in crash costs.
The trainings are also a benefit to businesses, said George Vasquez, a consultant helping to launch the coalition. Trained employees help businesses avoid costly fees and penalties they may incur if they get caught serving to intoxicated patrons, he said. They could also avoid civil suits in cases of DUI crashes.
Current trainings are voluntary, so there is no penalty for businesses or organizations that don’t participate, Vakharia said.
“Unfortunately, the ones who need it the most are the ones we never hear from,” she said.
Local wineries and the Napa Valley Vintners association have for years offered trainings to tasting room employees and volunteers at charity events. They discourage pourers from serving intoxicated individuals, offer assistance in calling a taxi for impaired drivers and provide other tips and techniques.
As helpful as such programs might be, Vakharia said they may have limited impact if they are not required.
“Why is it that someone can sell a potentially dangerous product and have no training at all?” she said.
Vasquez is a consultant for the Beverage Consulting Network. The firm has been hired by the national nonprofit Community Anti-drug Coalition of America to launch new locally based coalitions.
Coalitions work best if they focus on one goal, such as lobbying for a law requiring responsible beverage-serving training, he said. He hopes to get people involved from various sectors of the community, such as youth, parents, schools, religious organizations, health care professionals and the business community, he said.
“Everyone has different ideas toward one goal,” he said.
The coalition will work to collect data, educate the community and develop the ordinance. Vakharia hopes to have the new law in place by January 2011.
The coalition’s next meeting will be from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Feb. 4 at Puertas Abiertas, 952 Napa Street. For more information, contact Vasquez at (415) 577-3911.