Just what we need: Wine vending machines and potentially more drunk driving in PA

Drunk driving was the cause of 11,773 traffic deaths across the United States in 2008, according to the latest available U.S. government statistics.

Drunk drivers, on average, cause the death of another person every 45 minutes in the U.S., according to the group, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

So, of course, shouldn’t we make it easier to buy alcoholic beverages so that more people can imbibe and operate a motor vehicle while they are impaired?

That’s apparently the thinking of those brilliant folks at the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), which recently opened two refrigerated test kiosks in the Harrisburg area last month that dispense wine from PLCB vending machines located inside grocery stores,  according to a story Monday in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/AndrewJohnson

You heard us right – from vending machines. No bartender or on-the-scene human intervention required. The customer makes a selection from behind locked glass doors and uses touchscreen menus to make purchases, the story said. To get the wine, you have to scan your driver’s license and a credit or debit card, then you have to breathe into a breath-test machine on the front of the kiosk that checks your blood-alcohol content (BAC). Anyone with a BAC reading greater than 0.02% can’t make a purchase. If you are under the limit, then buy away!

The whole transaction  will allegedly be monitored via closed-circuit TV remotely by a PLCB employee, according to a press release issued by the agency.  “A Liquor Control Board employee will monitor each transaction from a remote location and confirm that the video of the purchaser matches the purchaser’s ID.”  The machines will only be operational from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Well that all makes us feel more secure.

“On the whole, the program has been very successful, far beyond our expectations,” liquor board chairman Patrick J. “P.J.” Stapleton 3d told the Inquirer. About 1,400 bottles of wine, priced from $6 to $23 a bottle, were sold in the first two weeks of the test program, according to the story. The PLCB estimates that some 100 of these kiosks could eventually be deployed in supermarkets within the commonwealth’s borders.

That’s just fabulous.

No longer is it enough that we have legal State Stores and beer outlets across Pennsylvania where you can buy alcoholic beverages.

Now we have to follow the lead of other states and allow the sale of alcoholic beverages in grocery stores because, damn it, we just can’t get enough alcohol at the spur of the moment wherever we are.

This is lawmaking at its most stupid.

Yes, it may not be as convenient to have to purchase alcoholic beverages within the fixed hours and through the fixed locations of State Stores and beer distributors here, but such is life. The present system does at least give us a fighting chance to better control and ultimately stop the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors and people who might already be drinking or drunk.

Critics of the State Store system have been complaining for years that the hours are inconvenient, that the selections of wines and liquors aren’t up to snuff and that the prices are more expensive compared to private liquor stores in other states. Those complaints have led to many changes in State Stores here in Pennsylvania, from wider selections of wines to Sunday hours in some locations.

Fine, some improvements for the sake of convenience were made.

But that doesn’t mean we have to keep making changes to make it easier and easier to buy booze and wine across our Commonwealth.

Drinking and driving kills people.

Making alcoholic beverages easier to obtain around the clock is not going to help lower that death toll.

Pennsylvania doesn’t need wine kiosks where people can buy alcohol with little more than a credit card, driver’s license and a breath into a machine.

This is a bad idea and could ultimately be a nightmare to enforce.

What about the drunk who buys the booze from the machine, but has a sober pal blow into the BAC mechanism? That’s not possible, says the PLCB?  Right, we buy that.

Without a human being there to prevent such a sale, anything can happen.

At least with a clerk present in a State Store, we have a fighting chance to keep drunks off the road.

At MyPhillyLawyer, where we represent people every week who are tragic victims of horrific accidents and injuries caused by drunk drivers, we say an emphatic “NO” to this wine kiosk trial.

Alcohol is prevalent enough in our society.

We don’t have to keep making it easier to get.