Virginia officials, responding to pressures from anti-drunk driving groups, today adopted restrictions on "happy hour" promotions that include a ban on two-for-one drinks and on selling drinks at discounted prices after 9 p.m.
The action by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is the first such limitation on the sale of drinks in the Washington area, but it does not go as far as Massachusetts laws, which banned happy hours altogether in December.
The new regulations, which are expected to go into effect in December, were recommended by an ad hoc committee appointed by the ABC board this year that included representatives of the state's restaurant association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The unusual alliance was able to hammer out a compromise between a total ban on happy hours, wanted by MADD, and no changes, wanted by some restaurateurs and bar owners.
Restaurant and bar owners in Virginia no longer will be able to have advertisements for happy hours appear outside their establishments, and all special inducements to sell drinks, such as reduced prices for pitchers of drinks, will have to end by 9 p.m.
Lou Herzog of Herndon, president of the Northern Virginia Chapter of MADD and a member of the committee, told the three-member ABC board that the committee's recommendation represented a compromise that is a "common sense approach" to efforts to reduce drunk-driving accidents.
Herzog, whose 19-year-old daughter was killed by a teen-age drunk driver in Fairfax County nearly four years ago, said today's action "will not, by itself, solve the problem."
Herbert J. Clegg, executive vice president of the Virginia Restaurant Association and a member of the committee, said the regulations "preserve the right to have happy hours within guidelines, while addressing public concerns."
ABC Board Chairman David Shobe called the action "definitely a step in the right direction," although he added that "it runs short of other states' efforts" toward abolishing special drinking inducements.
Among the spectators who filled the hearing room for the session were Morris and Billie Wheeler of Herndon, whose daughter was one of six persons killed by a drunk driver four years ago. The Wheelers said the driver who killed their daughter was "a nice young man, but nice young people can kill." The victim would have been 19 Wednesday.
Herzog told the board that drunk drivers fall into two categories: "social drinkers who occasionally overconsume and are not aware of their limitations -- and happy hours contribute to that -- and alcoholics, who may or may not be affected by these changes. But people buy things when prices are reduced."
Thomas L. Weedon, an ABC board staff member, said today's action must be reviewed by the governor's office and a legislative panel, and that if both approve, the changes probably will take effect Dec. 9 or Dec. 16.
Herzog said MADD will review the result of today's action in two years, "and if it's not working, we'll try to fix it."
A draft report being prepared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that five states have enacted laws this year to discourage excessive drinking, and that an additional 14 states have adopted regulations restricting happy hours.
The Virginia action is similar to one approved in December in Nebraska, according to a spokesman at the national traffic safety agency. Both states allow happy hours to continue under specific restrictions.
ABC Chairman Shobe said alcohol abuses do not occur so much during the traditional 4-to-7 p.m. period, when most bars and restaurants attempt to entice customers with happy hours, but rather when incentives stay in effect later.
Herzog said that neither Maryland nor the District is considering similar action. And the D.C. City Council recently rejected a proposal to raise the drinking age to 21. Virginia and Maryland already have enacted measures to raise their drinking age to 21.