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Program aims to nip drunken driving in the bud

February 06, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - About 30 owners, bartenders, waiters and other employees of bars and clubs in the Eastern Panhandle will get a crash course this evening in spotting the inebriated.

In an establishment where nearly everyone is drinking, distinguishing between those who are sober and those who could pose a danger on the roads is not always a simple task.

Especially for waiters and waitresses harried on a busy night.

Even when they do spot a drinker who has had too much, finding a delicate way to deal with the situation is no easy feat, either.

Solving such dilemmas is the primary aim of Training and Education on Alcohol Management, or TEAM, a two-year-old state program designed to curb drunken driving in West Virginia.

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Dick Weller, training and education specialist for the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, will give the four-hour course tonight at the Gables Nightclub in Berkeley County.

The Martinsburg resident said he designed the program to replace a state program that he considered less effective. He said he has trained about 2,200 people so far.

Weller, who has worked for the agency for 23 years, said West Virginia has lagged behind other states for much of that period.

He recalled one national conference he attended in Washington two years ago with officials from 21 other states. The gathering was an eye-opener, he said.

But since then, Weller said West Virginia has caught up.

"We have cut down on DUIs every place we've had these classes," he said. "This is the first time I've thought we've had a worthwhile program to help them."

Local law enforcement authorities said they welcome any effort to make businesses more responsible.

"The bottom line is it reduces the likelihood of fatalities and injuries multiple times," said Martinsburg Police Chief Ted Anderson. "Frankly, that makes it easier for law enforcement."

Anderson and Berkeley County Sheriff Ronald E. Jones said attitudes toward drunken driving have changed over the last couple of decades.

"You hate to think you're going to be the only ones out there trying to do anything about it," Jones said. "Years ago, nobody took the initiative to do anything about it."

Modeled after a program the National Institutes of Health created for the National Transportation Safety Board, TEAM runs participants through a four-hour session that includes videos, written information, oral presentation, role-playing exercises and a test at the end.

Those who correctly answer 70 percent of the questions receive a three-year certification from the state. Weller said such documentation can be effective in defending a bar or club against a lawsuit.

The first video shown to participants, in fact, is a message from a lawyer.

"He says he will take their home, their car, everything," Weller said. "It gets their attention."

In the role-playing exercises, participants take turns playing customers and servers. They practice techniques to slow down service to tables with people who have had too much to drink.

Weller said he also shows classes examples of fake identification - everything from false driver's licenses to phony military IDs and passports. He said he has collected more than 3,000 fake licenses that have been seized around the state over the last 23 years.

Weller said he hopes the legislature will make the now-voluntary program mandatory. He credited Gov. Cecil H. Underwood with putting the issue at the forefront.

"This is the first governor who stated to me that it's a big responsibility to have a liquor license," he said.

Weller estimated that 95 percent of bar and club owners genuinely want to do the right thing. Large damage awards in lawsuits against bars have made them even more committed to cutting off out-of-control customers, he said.

"These people are hungry for this kind of help, because these lawsuits are killing them."

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