The opinions vary, and so do the statistics they use. While Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs is continuing his call to consider an earlier closing time for the county's drinking establishments, one county lawmaker questions whether it might actually backfire.
Jacobs proposed exploring a change in the county's bar closing times, from the current 4 a.m. to 2 a.m., in an opinion piece published in last Sunday's edition of the Buffalo News. He cites numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that indicate 40 percent of auto fatalities include alcohol, and that fatal crashes are four times more likely at night.
Having a later closing time than neighboring counties, Jacobs adds, attracts more danger within Erie County.
"We tend to be a draw from other counties. If someone's been drinking and wants to continue to drink, they drive into Erie County," said Jacobs.
The County Clerk recommends further discussion and perhaps a six-month experiment: move closing times up to 2 a.m. temporarily, and then measure whether it proved effective.
The majority leader of the Erie County Legislature is not willing to try that experiement. Legislator Joseph Lorigo questions Jacobs' data, and cites different numbers from STOP DWI which list Erie County among the lower third of counties statewide in terms of DWI fatalities.
Moving closing time to 2 a.m., Lorigo suggests to WBFO, might actually backfire as it will put more drunk drivers on the road at once. He also expressed concern for businesses such as eateries that benefit from late-night bar hours, and also for late shift workers who get off work at midnight but would lose time to responsibly enjoy a drink after.
"I haven't seen any data that shows changing the time from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. is going to have any type of positive net effect," Lorigo said. "My concern is that it's going to have the exact opposite effect, cause more accidents, cause more fatalities."
Lorigo also tells WBFO the county should explore alternative transportation options for late-night bar patrons including the ride-sharing service Uber, for example.