In 2006, South Carolina legalized the free pouring of liquor and lifted the requirement for bars and restaurants to use mini bottles to serve liquor to customers. Voters pushed for this change in an attempt to reduce drunk driving and increase funding for alcohol treatment. Unfortunately, the number of fatalities linked to alcohol-related auto accidents has been steadily increasing instead of declining as predicted.
Supporters of the referendum, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the South Carolina Council of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Authorities, believed legalizing “free pours” would allow bars and restaurants to provide their customers with weaker drinks, using less liquor than the 1.7 ounces in a mini bottle. Free-pour drinks were reportedly becoming weaker, with less than 1.25 ounces of liquor per drink. With mini bottle drinks, out-of-state tourists were believed to be unaccustomed to such strong drinks and often underestimated their impairment, contributing to several drunk driving accidents in South Carolina. The law was believed to help reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents caused by citizens and tourists alike.
However, the number of drunk drivers involved in fatal wrecks in South Carolina has not decreased as expected. The percentage of alcohol-related accidents has remained among the highest in the U.S. at 50% of all fatal accidents in South Carolina.
Bars and restaurants in South Carolina can still purchase and serve liquor from mini bottles, but they are no longer required to do so. Some establishments have chosen to stick with the mini bottles to keep track of inventory and avoid pouring too much liquor for a customer. Since the change, liquor sales have increased, but the amount of funding for alcohol and drug treatment has also not met the expectations of the free-pour supporters, with no change in revenue since 2005.
The mini bottle referendum has not had the effect on alcohol-related accidents that voters expected. However, it should not be considered the cause of the increase in driving fatalities over the past several years. South Carolina citizens should drink responsibly and designate a driver before venturing out to the bars. If you have been injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, talk to a knowledgeable South Carolina accident attorney to get the help you need.