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Tomlinson: Keep Carroll's bars open an hour later

Last week, the Board of County Commissioners met with our Annapolis delegation to propose several bills they would like to see introduced during the upcoming General Assembly Session. The commissioners and members of our legislative delegation discussed a number of bills that focused on everything from serious topics such as the opioid epidemic to less dire ones such as banning plastic bags. One topic on tap that was served up at the urging of the Board of License Commissioners, commonly referred to as the liquor board, concerned much-needed changes to liquor license applications.

Listening to these discussions, an idea came to mind that the liquor board, county commissioners, and delegation should entertain, research and possibly even propose — extending the closing time for Carroll County bars and taverns. Presently, Carroll County does not allow any establishment to serve alcohol after 1 a.m. (except on New Year’s Eve). Many Carroll bars and taverns shutter their doors before the mandatory closing time during weekdays and even on weekends due to low customer traffic. On the other hand, there are still plenty of local watering holes that keep their doors open until the clock strikes 1. My modest suggestion for our local leaders would be to change the closing time from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m.

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This would put Carroll County on an even playing field with adjacent counties. Carroll County is surrounded by Baltimore, Howard and Frederick counties in Maryland, and Adams and York counties in Pennsylvania. The closing time in all five of these counties is 2 a.m. If establishments in Carroll County were allowed to continue serving drinks for one additional hour, then they would simply be in line with our neighboring counties.

Many hearing this proposal for the first time would raise an objection citing public safety. One would assume that allowing people to imbibe for 60 more minutes would result in an increase in drinking and driving and crimes related to public intoxication. In reality, this could not be farther from the truth.

Because the surrounding counties have a later closing time than Carroll, patrons have been known to leave the bar and race straight to the closest bar over the county line. As the song “Last Call for Alcohol” by Billy Joe Shaver says: “They say I can keep on drinking, but I can’t do it here.” Ask any local bartender, police officer, lawyer or just about anybody who has lived in Carroll County long enough, and they can tell you that this happens on any given night. When the last drink is served in Hampstead or Manchester, drinkers will race over to the East and grab another sip at one of the taverns right over the line in Baltimore County. Meanwhile, after the final tab is paid in Westminster, night owls will shoot up Md. 97 to Littlestown in Pennsylvania or speed down Md. 140 to cross into Reisterstown for “one bourbon, one scotch, one beer,” as George Thorogood would say.

Drinking and driving is a crime with often deadly repercussions. However, a 1 o’clock closing time causes many Carroll County drinkers to hop into vehicles and drive long stretches of road to reach out-of-county bars. This puts the driver and anyone else on the road in grave danger. If the lights could stay on for just one more hour in Carroll, the days of intoxicated drivers sprinting for the county line will decrease dramatically.

Another assumption by many is that by allowing bars to stay open, folks will consume greater amounts of alcohol and get far drunker. In 2003, Minnesota passed legislation that allowed bars to stay open one more hour, and a study completed in July of 2007 examined how this change affected one particular jurisdiction there. The study revealed that there was an increase in driving under the influence (DUI) arrests, but it also revealed that the average blood-alcohol level of those arrested was not appreciably higher statistically compared to those arrested before the change. After further research was done, it turns out that after the closing time was raised, more police officers were put on patrol and they were more likely to pull drivers over and conduct sobriety tests. Although the number of DUIs increased, it was not due to drivers consuming more alcohol because of the additional hour, but was instead due to amplified police surveillance. Furthermore, the study revealed that there was an increase in the number of drunk drivers from neighboring counties where the bar closing times were lower — which brings me right back to my earlier argument.

At first glance, the idea of allowing our county bars and taverns to stay open one additional hour may not appear potable, but once the facts and details are brought to the forefront, it goes down quite smoothly.

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