Does Austin Have a Problem With Drinking?

Photo of keys and drinkIt’s safe to say Austin is well known for its nightlife, music scene and restaurants. Whether you’re catching a band at Mohawk, happy hour at Uchiko or a cold one at Draught House, this city makes it pretty hard to avoid having a good time. However, is it possible that in our attempts to “keep Austin weird,” we are accidentally keeping Austin drunk?

Not surprisingly, the Austin American-Statesman analyzed the state alcohol sales and found Austin consumes more alcohol than any other city in Texas, and Travis County sold more drinks per person this past year than any other county in Texas. Austin has also been ranked by numerous publications as the “fifth drunkest city in America.” While this is an impressive ranking, it’s not exactly one Austinites can be proud of.

Is Austin Becoming a More Dangerous City to Live in Due to Alcohol Consumption?

Austin Police Department (APD) makes more than 6,000 DWI arrests per year, a number that is steadily increasing. APD also reports more than 50 percent of all cases where police needed to use force included suspects who were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There were 11 arrests made for intoxicated vehicular manslaughter, a charge that has increased in issuance every year since 2011.

On the bright side, the number of public intoxication (PI) cases have dropped. Though, that might be mostly due to the directive given to APD to make arrests on more urgent charges, such as assault or driving under the influence. This does not mean police will not hesitate to slap you with a PI charge. However, it seems APD concluded if it were to make arrests for every public intoxication case, police would have to arrest all of downtown every Friday.

What is Austin Doing to Combat the Local Drinking Problem?

Recently, APD and medical officials have teamed up to try and completely decriminalize public intoxication. Normally, violators are cuffed, sit a spell in Travis County’s drunk tank, smile for their mug shot, hang out for a few hours in a cell and are eventually set loose with anticipated future court appearances and fines. In this new collaboration, APD would detain intoxicated drivers and take them to a new facility. Offenders would be released with no charges and free to leave the facility after they became sober.

Organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) and ATX Safer Streets work to deter drunk driving. MADD attributes Austin’s alcohol problem to the city’s culture and educates students about the hazards of drunk driving in addition to participating in various forms of community outreach. ATX Safer Streets, founded by a former bartender, advocates city transportation and downtown overnight parking policies need improvements.

Austin May Need an Intervention

People seem to visit Austin for two reasons: to attend awesome festivals and to drink. A few years ago, Jimmy Kimmel came to South by Southwest to film for his talk show and joked, “…this is an intervention. You have a drinking problem, Austin. You need to stop.” Given the city’s increase in alcohol purchases, drunk driving accidents and arrests, he might be right.

Aaron Allison is a personal injury attorney who helps victims of drunk driving or other accidents in Austin.



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