A lawmaker claimed Pa. has seen a ‘large uptick’ in alcohol-related incidents; state police data says otherwise

By: - June 17, 2021 4:47 pm

Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, is right — there’s no way to formally regulate how much alcohol a bartender pours into a to-go cocktail. But one reason he gave for supporting legislation that would let liquor license holders sell canned cocktails to-go, doesn’t add up.

“We’ve seen recently that there is, especially in central Pennsylvania, a large uptick in alcohol-related accidents, deaths, and DUIs,” Regan told PennLive after the committee voted 6-5 to approve an amendment that would let grocery stores, convenience stores, beer distributors, bars, and restaurants to sell ready-to-drink cocktails.

It’s unclear where Regan, who did not respond to a request for comment, got the “large-uptick” statistic because Pennsylvania State Police data reflect a decline compared to prior years.

State Police reported 18,412 driving under the influence arrests in 2020; that’s a 17 percent decrease from the year before.

As of 3 p.m. Thursday, four drunk driving offenses were reported for June. In May, there were 1,205 — a 142 decrease from April, according to the state police.

So far this year, there have been 6,797 driving under the influence incidents. Of those, 6,773 have been actual offenses. There have been 14,619 disorderly conduct offenses, 3,363 drunkenness incidents, and 976 liquor law violations, according to state police data.

Using the same timeframe for comparison — January through June 2020 — state police reported 16,780 driving under the influence incidents; 16,693 were actual offenses. There were 25,774 disorderly conduct offenses, 6,126 drunkenness incidents, and 1,974 liquor law violations.

State police did report an increase in crash data for Memorial Day weekend this year, totaling at 844; however, 63 of those accidents were alcohol-related. In 2019, state police reported 65 alcohol-related accidents, two of which were fatal, over the holiday weekend. There was a slight uptick in 2021 enforcement data, with 596 drunk driving arrests, compared to 582 in 2019. 

State Police did not collect data over the 2020 Memorial Day weekend due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Police Troop H and Troop J, which account for counties in Regan’s district, don’t reflect a “large uptick” in alcohol-related arrests or crashes either. Data for 2020 shows a decrease compared to 2019, except for a 30 case increase in drunk driving crashes — which rose by 30 and 14, respectively.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Regan — whose brother-in-law is president of a Harrisburg-based beer distributor — said the amended bill “went a step further” to “aid the industry, consumers, and the Pennsylvania economy” by including canned cocktails in the legislation.

The ready-to-drink amendment was tacked onto a bill sponsored by Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland, that would make a pandemic lifeline — to-go cocktails — permanent. Ready-to-drink cocktails are manufactured and sold in cans with known ingredients and alcohol content listed on the container. Currently, state-owned liquor stores are only authorized to sell them.

Under the legislation, which Gov. Tom Wolf doesn’t support because of the amendment, the total maximum alcohol by volume content allowed for sale is 12.5 percent. Container size would be limited to 16 ounces, with a maximum total sale for off-premise consumption of 192 fluid ounces apart from beer distributor sales.

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