Cross Walk

The decision to drink and drive is typically made as a result of poor judgement or planning; however, decisions are not made without taking factors into consideration to arrive at a choice.

Accordingly, it would not be unreasonable to assume that some people choose to drink and drive because alternate methods of transportation are not available or feasible. What if it were easier to make the right choice i.e. taking steps to make drunk diving as unnecessary as possible?

Instead of focusing most, if not all, of the attention on punitive measures to deter drunk driving, why not try to cut off the problem from a different source?

Zoning is the practice of allocating available land for specific purposes. Zoning helps, for example, to curb the construction of industrial parks right next to or in close proximity to residential neighborhoods. If used correctly, zoning can be a powerful tool to provide extra protection against undesirable risks to public health:

“Public health advocates have reconnected with the historic roots of zoning controls as a mechanism for promoting public health and welfare and have applied the traditional city planning tools of zoning and CUPs to modern issues of public health protection. In addition to a familiar focus on vector control and building codes—which are still pressing public health concerns in communities plagued by antiquated or inadequate public infrastructures or dilapidated housing—public health advocates are using zoning and other land use tools to control the proliferation and negative public health effects of alcohol, tobacco, and gun sales in urban environments.”

Drunk driving is a public health risk because it results in the deaths of thousands of people per year and millions in taxpayer dollars. Zoning can be an effective tool because it can be done at the local level, which has been legitimized by courts many times over:

“Courts have confirmed that local governments may impose alcohol related land use restrictions even in localities where the state has preempted local control over the sale of alcohol products. The courts base this determination on the rational relationship between alcohol availability and its secondary effects on public health, safety, and welfare.42,43 Courts have found that local power over land use is so strong that it can be used to regulate the operation of alcohol outlets despite the state’s exclusive authority over alcohol sales.”

Upstate New York faces a unique problem that urban centers do not face. In metropolitan areas such as New York City, numerous options are available that make driving itself unnecessary to get to locations where alcohol is consumed in large quantities. Upstate New York does not possess the transportation infrastructure necessary to eliminate the use of cars as transportation to alcohol hot spots. Instead, establishments that serve alcohol can sometimes be in the middle of nowhere, making driving the only option for certain establishments. Since drunk driving is such a large problem, why do zoning patterns increase the potential for risky behavior?

And it’s not as if the issue of zoning and alcohol never cross paths. The New York State Liquor Authority actually factors in a premises to the process of obtaining a liquor license,

“Applications are investigated to determine eligibility for a license in three general areas – the principals, the premises and the source of finances.”

Maybe the economic benefits of liquor licensed establishments outweigh the considerations of responsible zoning practices? Even if this were the case, the economic impacts of drunk driving are surely no drop in the bucket.

So how can zoning be used to curb drunk driving in suburban and rural municipalities such as Syracuse? Hot zones, such as Armory Square, are an effective solution; concentrate alcohol hot zones to central areas that provide the ability to walk or easily take a cab if you have had too much to drink.

Another solution could be providing economic incentives to businesses that serve alcohol in locations closer to population centers, rather than remote areas. Another, if not more extreme, solution could be to only issue liquor licenses to establishments that are not in remote areas that are not easily accessible by public means of transportation (taxies, buses etc.).

Getting behind the wheel to drive after drinking is a choice, and the emphasis should not be taken off the individual. However, we should utilize established processes, such as zoning and the issuance of liquor licenses, to address a problem that is clearly not going to be solved by harsher laws related to drunk driving.

DISCLAIMER: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem.