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New California Law Allows Free Rides Home If You're Too Drunk to Drive

California once prohibited any licensed liquor manufacturer or seller from offering any gift or free goods in connection with the sale of any alcoholic beverage, as a way to prevent bars, brewers, and distillers from enticing over consumption of their product. That extended to giving patrons a free ride home if they were too tipsy to get behind the wheel.

But no longer. A new law allows alcohol manufacturers and licensed sellers to offer free or discounted rides to drinkers via ride-sharing services, cabs, or other ride providers to make sure they get home safely. Designated drivers, rejoice!

Inebriation Incentives

The Golden State had been in the minority -- 44 others states, along with Washington, D.C., allowed liquor manufacturers to foot the bill for free or discounted rides for customers. And while distillers were allowed to provide ground transportation for customers at invitation-only events, beer manufacturers were prohibited from doing the same.

But Assembly Bill 711 changes that, starting this week:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this division, a beer manufacturer may provide directly to consumers free or discounted rides through taxicabs, transportation network companies, or any other ride service for the purpose of furthering public safety. The free or discounted rides may be provided by vouchers, codes, or any other method to deliver the free or discounted ride.

But the new law comes with a couple of caveats. First, free or discounted rides can't be conditional upon the purchase of an alcoholic beverage, so customers can't be enticed to buy beer with the prospect of a ride home. And second, beer and wine wholesalers can't underwrite, share in, or contribute to the costs of free or discounted rides.

Free Rider Problem

While police, bars, ride providers, and especially prospective designated drivers might be pleased with the new law, not everyone supported the bill. Rev. James Butler, executive director of the California Council on Alcohol Problems, thinks the new law will encourage bad behavior. "If they get free transportation, maybe instead of two beers they have six," Butler told the Sacramento Bee. "And when people overconsume alcohol, they make bad decisions."

One of those bad decisions might be getting behind the wheel of a car, a choice many will not need to face know that they can be offered a free, safe ride home.

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