State goes online to cut drunk driving

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Cape Girardeau is one of 20 Missouri cities chosen to test a new online training program targeted for the owners and employees of restaurants and bars. The program is expected to cut down on the instances of drunken driving by educating managers and employees about both underage drinking and the consequences of serving alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated.

The program, State of Missouri Alcohol Responsibility Training Program (SMART), went online Dec. 1. It is funded through the Division of Highway Safety of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The training program is free to any establishment that serves alcohol, except convenience stores, said Kevin Stewart, coordinator of the Substance Prevention Education Program at Southeast Missouri State University.

The way it works, Stewart said, is the manager of a bar or restaurant logs into the SMART program and enters the business's liquor license number. Then employees can go in with an assigned password, review some information, and then take a 10-question test. If they pass with the required 100 percent rate, they are given a notification that they have passed the course, which will go with them if they leave and go to work for another bar or restaurant.

If they don't pass, they can retake the test, which Stewart said will have different questions.

The portion of the program that relates to underage drinking advises employees about how to spot a fake identification card. Stewart said fake IDs are a big problem in Cape Girardeau, especially among young college-age women.

"Even if they're freshmen, females can pretty much go in and get served," Stewart said. "Students tell me it's pretty easy. They know where to go and can easily get into bars and be served."

It's especially easy for underage drinkers to be served in bars that allow people 18 to 21 to come in but not be served alcohol. It's simple for someone of legal drinking age to buy a drink for an underage drinker, he said. Bars don't have the manpower, and sometimes the incentive, to track underage drinking.

Young people who have access to a computer can make a fake identification card that can fool even the most careful bar server, Stewart said. He said that the Department of Public Safety at Southeast Missouri State University has confiscated identification cards the campus police thought were real.

In addition, the SMART program guides managers and employees through the problem of selling alcohol to intoxicated customers. It offers tips on how to spot a customer who has had too much to drink, ways to refuse to sell to such a customer, when to stop serving, and how to break up a bar fight.

The Safe Communities Program of the Cape Girardeau Police Department supports the effort, said coordinator Sharee Galnore.

"Any chance I get I will be encouraging owners of bars and restaurants to take advantage of this," Galnore said.

Later in December, she said, the police department and the Missouri Department of Liquor Control will offer a training program and will mention SMART during that session.

If SMART proves to be successful in the 20 test cities, Stewart said, then after Sept. 30, 2005, when the test period ends, the board that oversees it will petition the state to make the program mandatory and will base it on a Nebraska law. Bar and restaurant managers could be offered incentives, such as a discount o their liability insurance premium, to participate.

Stewart said that in Nebraska and other areas where the program has already been successful, statistics have shown that the rate of alcohol-related traffic accidents were reduced by as much as 17 percent.

"We're excited and positive about it," Stewart said. "We're looking forward to seeing where it goes."

Any bar or restaurant owner interested in more information can contact Stewart at 651-2270.

335-6611, extension 160

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