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Tougher Drunk Driving Laws Could Hurt the Restaurant Industry

If the National Transportation Safety Board gets its way, drunk driving laws across the country will get a lot tougher and that has restaurant owners nervous.

Sure, if you own a McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) or a Chic-fil-a, it isn’t leaving you with very many sleepless nights but if you’re one of the many restaurants that rely on alcohol sales to boost its bottom line, the change could be catastrophic.

The NTSB wants to reduce the level from the current level of 0.08 to 0.05. For many, that would likely mean no more than a single glass of wine while dining out. That, according to some, would ruin the restaurant experience.

For restaurants that serve alcohol, beer sales account for 10 to 20 percent of revenue while wine and other mixed drinks total another 10 to 20 percent. If a large portion of this revenue were negatively impacted, the effects could be disastrous, according to CNBC. “It could have a chilling effect on sales,” said Paul Gatza, the director of the Brewers Association, an industry group that represents small brewers.

Why the change? Research shows that impairment begins with the first drink, according to the NTSB. More than 100 countries already have adopted the 0.05 limit.

Surprisingly, Mothers against Drunk Driving is saying, “thanks, but no thanks.” Instead, it calls for tougher enforcement of the 0.08 level.

Restaurants might be the losers but retailers who sell alcohol might see an uptick in sales as more people elect to consume alcohol at home where the limit isn’t a factor.

The NTSB proposed the change on Tuesday along with the use of in-vehicle intoxication detection technology and the targeting of repeat offenders. The 0.08 level was first recommended in 1982 and has been the standard among the 50 states–each having the right to set their own levels.

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