Under Some State Social Liability Laws, You May Be Responsible If Your Guests Drink and Drive
NEW YORK, Feb. 1, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Whether you're rooting for Big Blue or are a Patriots fan, if you are planning to throw a Super Bowl Party on Sunday, remember that a considerate host not only puts out the baby-backs and beer, but also checks for designated drivers, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
On February 5, millions of Americans will drive to a friend or family member's house to watch Super Bowl XLVI. While the big game is one of the most exciting events of the football season, it is also one of the most dangerous as roads are filled with too many impaired drivers wending their way back home after the parties. Contributing to the inherent dangers of drinking and driving is the relatively late kickoff (6:30 p.m., ET) and the fact that the game may go on for hours.
According to the most recent figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010, alcohol-impaired-driving crashes accounted for 31 percent of the total motor vehicle traffic fatalities. On Super Bowl Sunday, 48 percent of the fatalities occurred in crashes in which a driver or motorcycle rider had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08 or higher. In fact, more than 13,000 Americans died that year in crashes involving an impaired driver.
Young men—ages 21 to 34 years old—are the core audience for major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and are also the most likely to drive while intoxicated, according to NHTSA. They are also the most likely to drive fast and not wear their seatbelts.
"Those throwing a party where alcohol is served have both a legal and moral responsibility to make sure that their guests are capable of driving safely," said Loretta Worters, vice president with the I.I.I. "You don't want to allow anyone who has been drinking to drive a vehicle while impaired. Not only do your guests risk injury or death to themselves or others, but you may be held financially responsible."
Social host liability, the legal term for the criminal and civil responsibility of a person who furnishes liquor to a guest, can have a serious impact on party throwers. Social host liability laws vary widely from state to state: some states do not impose any liability on social hosts; others limit liability to injuries that occur on the host's premises; some extend the host's liability to injuries that occur anywhere a guest who has consumed alcohol goes; and many states have laws that pertain specifically to furnishing alcohol to minors. However, in all, 37 states have enacted laws or have case law that permit social hosts who serve liquor to people who subsequently are involved in crashes to be held liable for any injury or death.
Fatigue is another potential problem. NHTSA reports that drowsy drivers cause more than 100,000 crashes annually, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths. Driving drowsy increases the risk of a crash or near-crash by at least a factor of four. This is not hard to imagine, as being sleepy can have the same effect on your alertness and performance as having too much alcohol.
"A tired driver is not a safe driver," said Worters. "And with the roads being more dangerous than usual on Super Bowl Sunday, drivers need to be especially vigilant."
If you are planning to host a Super Bowl party, the I.I.I. suggests the following:
- Make sure you understand your state laws. Before sending out party invitations, familiarize yourself with your state's social host liability laws.
- Speak with your insurance agent or company representative about your homeowners coverage and any exclusions, conditions or limitations your policy might have for this kind of risk. Homeowners insurance usually provides some liquor liability coverage, but it is typically limited to $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the policy, which might not be enough.
- Consider venues other than your home for the party. Hosting your party at a restaurant or bar with a liquor license, rather than at your home, will help minimize liquor liability risks.
- Hire a professional bartender. Most bartenders are trained to recognize signs of intoxication and are better able to limit consumption by partygoers.
- Encourage guests to pick a designated driver who will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages so that he or she can drive other guests home.
- Be a responsible host. Limit your own alcohol intake so that you will be better able to judge your guests' sobriety.
- Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food. Eating and drinking plenty of water, or other non-alcoholic beverages, can help counter the effects of alcohol.
- Do not pressure guests to drink or rush to refill their glasses when empty. And never serve alcohol to guests who are visibly intoxicated.
- Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening. Switch to coffee, tea and soft drinks.
- If guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or have them sleep at your home.
- Encourage all your guests to wear seatbelts as they drive home. Studies show that seatbelts save lives.
Distracted driving is always dangerous, but texting or using your cellphone in the car could be even more deadly with so many people on the road on Super Bowl Sunday—and many people may be tempted to text or call friends and family members after the game. Never use your cellphone while driving—studies show that the risk of a crash increases substantially with drivers' use of either hand-held or hands-free phones. If you receive, or need to make, an urgent call, pull off the road first and find a safe place to park before picking up your cellphone.
Find more information on preventing drinking and driving on the MADD website.
THE I.I.I. IS A NONPROFIT, COMMUNICATIONS ORGANIZATION SUPPORTED BY THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY.
SOURCE Insurance Information Institute