Studies mixed on impact of bar closing times

Posted at 9:49 AM, Feb 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-04 09:52:34-05

As Erie county leaders debate changing bar closing times, we took a close look at what various research studies have said about the impact of bar closing times on DUI's and violence in other communities.

Most of the studies we found investigated an opposite change of the one being considered in Erie County, looking instead at the impacts of bar closing times being extended, but many of the findings are relevant to the discussion here.


Minnesota study finds DUI's increased after city extended bar closing times, but so did police response


A 2007 study examined the impact of extending bar closing times in a Minnesota city. In 2003, the city extended "last call" by one hour, and saw a significant increase in the number of DUI stops in the six months following the change.

While the number of people arrested increased, the average blood-alcohol level of those arrested wasn't significantly different.

Researchers also found that police officers on patrol were more likely to initiate stops following the change in law, and more likely to initiate sobriety tests during those stops. In addition, officers hours were changed, leading to more officers available after the new bar closing times.

The increase in DUI arrests came heavily in the hour following the new closing time, but arrests in the hour before bars closed dropped. The study also found the extension in bar closing times caused an increase in the number of drunk drivers from nearby counties, where bar closing times were earlier.

Researchers concluded that by "anticipating a problematic outcome...police actions might have actually contributed to the increase in the number of DUI stops, through not in the incidence of drunk driving itself."


California study finds number of restaurants in a given area, but not the number of bars, was related to number of people driving after drinking


A 2002 study in California examined the impact of the availability of alcohol had on the number of people drinking after driving, and the more extreme driving while intoxicated.

Researchers found the more restaurants that served alcohol there were in a given area, the higher rate of people that would drink and drive. But that wasn't the case for bars. The reasoning, given by the researchers, were that bars were typically concentrated in low-income neighborhoods -- and people drinking at restaurants were more likely to have access to a vehicle than a person drinking at a bar.

Despite that, researchers cited earlier studies that showed across multiple states that increased availability of alcohol in general led to an increase in alcohol-related crashes. They concluded, in part, "DWI appears to be less a function of the structure of alcohol availability in communities, and more a problem of individual proclivities to engage in deviant behavior."


Study found a 33% decrease in assaults following Australian city changing bar closing time from 5 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.


In one of the few studies we found that directly looked at the impact of closing bars earlier, an Australian study found a city saw a drop in assaults by 1/3 after changing their bar closing times in 2008.

It's worth noting, the city also implemented a "one-door policy" at 1:30. After that time, people in the bar could continue drinking until last call, but no one else would be admitted to the bar.

The city in question also had a much higher rate of assault than a neighboring city. That city saw their assault rates remain mostly constant during the same time period. The conclusion was pretty clear; "The restriction in closing time appears to have produced a reduction in assault incidence against a backdrop of a stable trend in the control area."


Some other notes from studies around the world:

  • A 1986 study in Scotland found a significant increase in the number of people who reported being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after increasing bar closing times by one hour, and allowing Sunday sales.
  • A 2006 study found more crashes occurred after Windsor, Canada (just across the border of Detroit, Michigan) increased closing times from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. The same researcher did a similar study in Ontario a year earlier, and found no significant change in driver fatalities, and that beer consumption actually declined after bar hours were extended,