How do people in cities without public transit get home after drinking?
March 11, 2017 4:25 PM   Subscribe

How do people in cities without public transit get home after drinking?

I've lived my entire adult life in big cities like NYC where most people take mass transit instead of driving. On a recent trip to a more typical US city where most people drive and there is minimal public transit, this got me thinking - how do people in those cities get home after a night out?

I know taxis/Uber exists in other cities, but let's say you drive to work, and your friends text you wanting to go out after work, so you drive to the bar to meet them. Let's say you end up drinking so much you can't drive home safely. Do you just take a taxi home and leave your car at the bar? Wouldn't you then have to take a taxi to work the next day and another taxi to get to your car (or wake up early and take a taxi to get your car first?) That seems like a pretty big inconvenience for a night out...

Or do people in driving cities generally plan in advance when they are going out and take taxis to/from the bar to avoid the problem of needing to go back for their car? Do they just drink less in general? Is "designated driver" actually a thing (which would seem like it still leads to stranded cars unless that person also picks everyone up first) ? Or is drunk driving just way more common in the US than I think?
posted by karakumy to Society & Culture (46 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There's a lot more drunk driving than you think.

And some people are fine with drinking in moderation. My friends mostly have at most a drink an hour and are careful to back off well before they have to drive.
posted by Candleman at 4:29 PM on March 11 [42 favorites]

In LA, we plan in advance so that the car stays home and uber gets us there.
posted by samthemander at 4:30 PM on March 11

Leaving your car at the bar is very common. As is drinking water and sobering up a bit before driving home at the limit or a little over.
posted by Greener Backyards at 4:31 PM on March 11

Designated drivers are definitely a thing. Also, a lot of people drive when they probably shouldn't.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:32 PM on March 11 [14 favorites]

In LA, we plan in advance so that the car stays home and uber gets us there.
That's what responsible people do. Other people drive.

At least 30 traffic deaths, 2,017 DUI arrests through Labor Day morning, CHP says

posted by betweenthebars at 4:37 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]

Yeah, in Austin they totally drive drunk.

Fun CDC stats show that NY is actually surprisingly low on traffic fatalities (#989?) if you consider population. I'm sure these numbers are broken down based on causality somewhere, but I'm on mobile and will leave that to wiser minds. But for me, short answer is: people drive drunk when there's no other easy options.
posted by theweasel at 4:50 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]

I grew up in Kansas City. There, people either had a designated driver, took cabs, tried to sober up at the end of the night, or were over the limit when they drove home.
posted by dismas at 4:52 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]

Many people drive.

Maybe it's living in college towns most of my life, but the only way I've ever left a car somewhere after closing without being towed is when I've parked it in a nearby neighborhood rather than a parking lot. I've never parked on commercial property that didn't have tow signs up, and the tow truck companies handle the monitoring so they can make their bucks. For a lot of people, the time and money for definitely having to bail your car out is too steep compared to the gamble of getting caught driving.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:55 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]

Most of my experience was pre-Uber and in LA where taxis are more annoying (you can't just wave one over like NYC, you basically have to call for one).

Some people used designated drivers. Others just limited alcohol consumption when drinking (this was me for the most part --- kept it to enough where I was under the limit.... probably). Some just drove drunk.

I never saw anyone take a taxi home if they drove their car there...
posted by thefoxgod at 4:57 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

It's only the extremely conscientious that leave their car and take a cab home, in my experience.

Most people drive.
posted by Automocar at 5:05 PM on March 11 [17 favorites]

They drive. I remember the first time I visited the US seeing ads for bail bonds and lawyers behind the urinals of bars. Then I saw enough people on the roads to understand why.
posted by holgate at 5:19 PM on March 11

There have been companies who have a driver come on a fold up motorbike, toss it in your trunk and drive you home.
posted by brujita at 5:26 PM on March 11 [11 favorites]

Tokyo has good transit--that shuts down well before the bars do. So, there is a service for that called daiko. You call, they send a taxi and two drivers. One drives your car home for you. Not cheap. Up to 5km 4,980 JPY. 20km is 11,730 JPY. But, considering the consequences of any alcohol in your system while driving, it is pretty cheap. I'm kind of surprised this hasn't taken off in some cities in the US. Or, maybe it has and I just don't know about it.
posted by Gotanda at 5:31 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]

A sidebar on this: zoning in most parts of the south (and perhaps the entire US) doesn't tend to permit places that sell alcohol in residential areas, and often restricts bars to very specific zoning designations. You can, however, put up a church pretty much anywhere.

In contrast, British working-class suburbs were typically built with pubs within walking distance -- often the functional, boxy, unpretty type known as "estate pubs" -- but a lot of them have closed in recent years, with many converted to housing, so their old regulars have to travel further afield and rely on cabs and night buses, or drink at home. There's still drunk driving, especially in rural areas where the country pub is only accessible by road, but it's much less prevalent than the US.
posted by holgate at 5:36 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]

Yeah, they're driving. DUIs are likely way more common than you are thinking, possibly even among people you know.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 5:39 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]

Driving drunk is definitely a common solution, but there are also services such as this one, as brujita mentioned, and it seems pretty common here for people to leave their cars at bars overnight and then get a ride back there when they're sober. And I've had drunk people walk or get rides of some sort to my house, sleep it off, and then I've taken them back to their cars the next day.

I thought most bars actually encouraged people to leave their cars overnight if they weren't OK to drive, but I guess not? Some do, though. And there used to be a law firm that would have commercials and ads in bars during holidays saying they'd reimburse you for cab fare if you got a ride instead of driving drunk.

I have also known at least a couple of people who've just slept in their cars until morning. I've also heard you can get charged with DUI just for being in your car drunk, even if you're parked, but I don't know if that's true. The people I know got away with it, at any rate.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:43 PM on March 11

When I was in my 20s going to bars seemed more common, and there was more drunk driving. Now, in my 30s, people are largely coupled up and are more likely to have drinks with dinner (and so they won't be quite so sloshed anyway) or drink at friends' houses, where it's socially acceptable to stay later or even crash and drive home in the morning. Since people are partnered, there's a lot of negotiation about who will be driving and drinking more/later.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:54 PM on March 11 [10 favorites]

We have public transit here but it shuts down long before the bars do so before Uber/Lyft came along people either had a designated driver or drove drunk.
posted by octothorpe at 6:17 PM on March 11

Designated drivers were very common in my group during college (SE MI). We also collected keys for house parties, so a lot of crashing on couches.

As adults we definitely drank less during the week back home compared to when we live somewhere with public transit. Heavy drinking usually meant someone (usually my husband since I'm a light weight) switches to water to sober up well in advance of departure.

My best friend's grandmother has a weekly appointment with a cab for the ride home from Margerhita Tuesday. She'll either then have a friend drive her to her car the next day or cab it again. She is the only person I know who cabs it home regularly in that area.

Every few years a huge group of us gets a party bus for a bar crawl during the holidays so we can all drink to our hearts content and still sleep in our own beds (or hotel beds for the out of towners).

And like PhoBWanKenobi noted, we drink at people's houses a lot more (although this is true regardless of the public transit situation for us).
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:18 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

In LA, if you leave your car somewhere it could be a huge pain to get to it the next morning (especially on a week day) so I think that's an Uber deterrent. My drinking days were pre-Uber and people just drove a lot of the time. I had one boyfriend all these years that would insist we take the bus if we were drinking. (This was around Santa Monica and Venice, which is easy to bus around.) So many people drive buzzed and very buzzed, let alone drunk. It's nuts. And as was ,mentioned, you can't just flag down cabs in L.A.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:56 PM on March 11

I think it's pretty common, if people have parking at work, to leave a car there over the weekend if you want to go drinking on a Friday night. Then you just have to arrange to get from work to the pub, from the pub to home, and then back into work the next workday. People will use taxis for the first two, and if you are sharing a taxi from work, it's only really one expensive taxi ride (pub > home). Most people can manage to get a lift into work to pick up the car, either from a colleague, or from a partner who has a second car. I've done that myself, since our public transport pretty much stops running at midnight. I'll usually go back into work in the weekend to get the car in that case, which is usually easier than either being without it all weekend, or having to try to arrange an alternative on Monday morning.

Also, in less built up areas, there might be parking at the pub that you can leave your car at all night, and come collect it the next day. Then you only have to worry about getting home (taxi) and coming back in for the car (friend).

Finally, the pubs near us advertise a pick-up service: they'll pick you up from anywhere within about 10km, and drop you home after drinking. I've never used it, but I assume they require you to order a certain minimum of drinks/food.
posted by lollusc at 7:24 PM on March 11

I guess to follow up on my answer - "how we're getting home" was a conversation I had with friends when we were going out. Sometimes it involved pre-arranging with a relative or another friend (or a friend's sibling...). You work it out, basically. And sometimes, yeah, you leave your car some place and hope nothing happens to it.
posted by dismas at 7:49 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]

I'm in Milwaukee and while we do have a bus system (such as it is), in my experience most people just drive. If I know I'm going to get sloshed (e.g. birthday party) I'll take a taxi both ways. If I didn't realize I was going to drink so much, sometimes I'll leave my car at the bar, take a taxi home, and go back on the bus the next day. People in rural areas don't have taxis so if they can't depend on a friend I guess they just drive. It's probably actually not a huge danger to anyone else on county roads at 3 am due to the lack of traffic.

Your first DUI isn't even a criminal offense here. They're really common. (I have not gotten one.)
posted by AFABulous at 7:50 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]

... DUI just for being in your car drunk, even if you're parked ...

Absolutely true. I read a Montana Supreme Court opinion from this week where they upheld just such a conviction. The defendant appealed because he had not been allowed to present evidence that he had not intended to drive drunk. The court ruled that the statute did not address intent, so his intent and evidence thereof was irrelevant.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:51 PM on March 11

I thought most bars actually encouraged people to leave their cars overnight if they weren't OK to drive, but I guess not?

This is a big problem here since most bars don't have parking lots, and there are strict rules about overnight parking in the city. So people will drive drunk to avoid getting their car ticketed or towed.
posted by AFABulous at 7:54 PM on March 11

I'm thinking that if you're in L.A. and you go out with coworkers to a local bar, you could be an hour drive from home. That's an expensive taxi or lyft ride. And while wide swaths of the area are accessible by public transport, most people in L.A. would probably not do this, especially if it adds an hour or more to the trip. Buzzed/drunk you might decide driving home is a risk worth taking.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:03 PM on March 11

Your first DUI isn't even a criminal offense here. They're really common. (I have not gotten one.)

Wisconsin is particularly lax when it comes to drunk driving, to the point that when the paper ran an article about a man who received his first dui, the comments section was filled with posts wondering why it was noteworthy. Consensus was that he must have been the last man in the state to receive his first dui. (I have not gotten one either.)
I'm old, so we get home on the last bus. When I lived in the country I'd negotiate with my partner beforehand and then spend a couple hours sobering up before driving home because she, inevitably, would not have upheld her end of the bargain.
She once served on a jury for the trial of a man who'd had a few, argued with his wife then went to sleep in his car parked on the street in front of his house. A cop saw movement in the backseat of his car and busted him for drunk driving. He was aquitted.
That said, there's an uncomfortable amount of drunk people on the road in this state.
posted by Floydd at 8:16 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

That seems like a pretty big inconvenience for a night out...

I live in a rural area, there is no public transportation at all. And no cabs. A lot of people don't go out drinking as much during the week. So you go out on the weekend and either

- designate a driver (me and my friends do this, it's not that hard)
- leave a car and get it later. You have a friend give you a ride and everyone goes out to brunch or something the next day
- walk a long way home (few miles maybe? a lot of people live walking distance to the bar)
- drive drunk (not recommended but really most people do this here)
posted by jessamyn at 8:38 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]

Anecdata: I live in an exurban town, and the local watering hole advertises rides home for you and your car. I've never been there so I'm not sure how they manage it (probably send two people, one with the driver's ride back), but that's definitely a pretty nice deal.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:45 PM on March 11

Echoing Jessamyn, no public transit or cabs (let alone uber) here. So we call a friend, "sober up" before leaving, or walk. Plus my friend will occasionally ride their horse home. Electric bikes are called DUI bikes around here. And tractors. You can drive a tractor without a license. I've known a few people that take their tractor into town; slow, but faster than walking.
posted by saucysault at 9:06 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]

In the UK, we used to have a couple after work with colleagues (unless it was a planned session out with cabs etc), but not drink seriously until we'd gone home. Since the age of about 25, I've just made sure that every house I buy is within less than a minute's walk of a good pub. Pace it out and check it thoroughly before signing up for the house...

Of course, this is UK and NZ cities, not US ones. YMMV...
posted by tillsbury at 10:26 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

And re: being charged without driving, yes in the UK my colleague was convicted (large fine, 18 month ban, 10 year 1000% loading on insurance, first offence) when we were in a private party at a friend's house. He walked to his car on the other side of the road (drunk) to get another packet of cigarettes that were in his car. Walking towards your car with the keys when drunk is enough "intent" to get you breathalysed and convicted, and our clamour that he had no intention of driving was ignored.

When I used to go to restaurants in the UK with my wife (who often only had one glass of wine and was driving) I would make absolutely sure only she had the car keys before we walked out of the restaurant. It becomes second nature.
posted by tillsbury at 10:31 PM on March 11

Seems your question is pretty well answered (all of the options you listed, to various degrees) but to answer one other point, if there's a DD, then in my experience, yes, that person drives everyone there as well as back.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:23 AM on March 12

Baton Rouge: designated drivers, driving (ugh) and walking back to get cars. There were some programs to take college students home, but outside that area not much. That was my experience 10ish years ago
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:13 AM on March 12

Not exactly a city without public transit but when I lived in Berlin cycling was the way most of the people I was friends with got around and it was common to cycle home drunk. Works best if you are going home late enough that the roads are pretty quiet.
posted by neilb449 at 3:24 AM on March 12

In my town people are starting to take Uber or Lyft both to and from the bar when they know they will be drinking.

Sometimes two less-drunk people help out an obviously drunk person - one drives the drunk person and their car to their home, and the other takes the driver back to his/her car.

Some people are very conscientious about designating a driver.

Sometimes the drunk person gets a ride home and then a ride back to their car early in the morning.

But really, a lot of people drive when they shouldn't.
posted by bunderful at 7:43 AM on March 12

I've also heard you can get charged with DUI just for being in your car drunk, even if you're parked

This depends on the State. I think such laws are known as "actual physical control" DUI laws - if you are judged to have APC of the car, you are charged. A friend of mine was convicted for this. He was passed out in the car with the engine running for heat, after he had fallen and hit his head outside a bar. It did make me think that the law's intent isn't totally absurd, since it's pretty likely that the first thing such a person is going to do when they come to is, drive home. I think the fact that he was not actually driving was usable as a mitigating circumstance at sentencing, but, as above, it was not a defense to the charge.

But basically, people talk themselves into thinking they are OK to drive, when they are in fact definitely chargeable with DUI, all the time, and, on top of that, you have the lifestyle drunk drivers out there, who may or may not be able to identify their own reflection in the rear view mirror.
posted by thelonius at 9:02 AM on March 12

When I lived in a town like this, we all drank at the bar where you could safely leave your car for the night and either had a designated driver drop everyone off, or staggered home (maybe a 25-minute walk) together...

There were certainly several occasions when I thought I'd be driving home but ended up leaving my car there, fine- and judgment- free from the bar owners. A good bartender will encourage this, in fact.
posted by TwoStride at 9:55 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

I also think, if you're not a driver or spend much time in cars or on roads (or in small towns where speed/drunk traps are big revenue), you don't understand how rarely people* get pulled over for anything, much less any sort of suspicion of drunk driving. I'm 45 and the last time I got pulled over was an expired inspection sticker (small-town suburb, high ticket revenue) in 1999 or 2000, and that was the 4th time in my life (speeding, tail light, tail light, inspection sticker). I've never been pulled over in 5 years in California, and frankly I'm not sure the San Diego or LA police pull people over at night unless they are waving a gun out the window or driving upside down or something, and I suspect that CHP won't unless the apparent danger of the driving situation is significantly greater than the danger of pulling over on a highway. (It's an issue on surface roads for police in LA too, because there's nowhere for two cars to safely pull off together most of the time, you'd have to both find and go into a parking garage and park to safely conduct the transaction in many parts of the city.)

This is part of the reason that distracted driving has become the risk that it has, because police in most areas just don't have time or resources to enforce any but the most egregious offenses. Most of the laws on the books now are meant to increase damages/punishment IF something happens, rather than the deterrent of getting caught before something happens.

People get away with driving buzzed and drunk, so they keep doing it. There would be better alternate options if it was a high perceived risk.

*If you are not a profiled demographic, whether that means your silhouette looks wrong or your vehicle doesn't match the neighborhood it's in.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:03 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]

I have been told that, while having a teenage driver in the house is stressful, forcing them to come get you when you are too drunk to drive home from book club is one of the great joys of suburban motherhood. My oldest is 14. I'm counting down the days.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:22 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Carpooling with a designated driver is a thing. Otherwise, if you're driving yourself, you either plan to stop drinking early in the evening, drive with at least some alcohol in your system (everyone's got their "math"), or crash with friends if you're too far gone.

I am very grateful that this is no longer a regular part of my life, and all I have to do is able to put one foot in front of the other, use transit, hail a cab, etc.
posted by desuetude at 10:42 PM on March 12

Tokyo has good transit--that shuts down well before the bars do. So, there is a service for that called daiko. You call, they send a taxi and two drivers. One drives your car home for you. Not cheap.

The Seoul version of this (called daeri unjeon) is really affordable. So awesome.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:18 AM on March 13

When I moved to the sticks I realised that was going to be an issue. Fortunately the only nearby watering hole is a trashy dive for farm kids that features bad music, bad foods, and bad fights, so I don't have any inclination to go there.

Everyone I know in the area just rotates whose house they drink at. People have more porches, gazebos, masses of lawn chairs, tables, etc, than they do in places where you can go out, and you just walk down the street. Kids get set up with a movie or something.

I am really careful if driving home after a certain hour; it's 1982 out here as far as views on drunk driving go. I also have a surprising number of intelligent, otherwise law-abiding city friends with drunk driving arrests on their records.

(Reading Lyn Never's comments -- I used to live in LA and knew a lot of habitual drunk drivers. It just wasn't talked about, and I never heard about anybody getting done for it. If someone was utterly gone they might be encouraged to crash with a friend, or "sober up" with food/coffee/cocaine.)
posted by kmennie at 6:54 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

Where I come from, driving around getting drunk was in-and-of-itself a routine recreational activity for highschoolers and quite a few grown-ass adults of my parents' generation alike, at least as late as the early 2000s. It's probably tailed off some, but I'm pretty confident it's still a thing. If you live in town, you can walk to the bar (you probably don't, but you could in theory). If you don't live in town, you probably have 5 to 20 miles to get home, and you're gonna drive. Same for going to parties.

I echo everyone in this thread who has said that yeah, drunk driving in the US is way more common than you think. I think it's pretty much ubiquitous everywhere outside of the handful of major cities with real mass transit and the urban cores where walking to a neighborhood bar is feasible.
posted by brennen at 10:49 AM on March 13

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posted by taz at 4:24 AM on March 15

In the rural Wyoming town where I grew up, it was pretty common for people to hitchhike home at the end of an evening. This is probably less common now.
posted by spindrifter at 10:26 AM on March 15

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