One for the Road? . . .

It was announced yesterday that the J D Weatherspoon’s firm has been given the go-ahead to open a pub in a motorway service station. Is there anything morally problematic with this development?

The moral question here turns on the empirical question of whether having a pub in a motorway service station would lead to an increase in the number of motorists drinking in a manner that would compromise their ability to drive safely. Since this venture is the first of its kind, any answer to this question must necessarily be somewhat speculative. However, it seems that we can consider certain factors which might be thought to bear on the question of whether we could reasonably expect the presence of a pub in a motorway service station to increase drink-driving.

First, we might worry that the main market that Weatherspoon’s is targeting in opening a pub at a service station is drivers. However, this is not necessarily the case; service stations are also visited by a large number of non-drivers, in particular, by passengers on long haul coach journeys. As such, it is not the case that Weatherspoon’s are specifically targeting drivers in a manner that might give us cause for concern.

A related worry might be that the mere presence of a pub would serve to tempt drivers into drinking when they previously would not have done so. Again though, it is not clear why this must be the case. After all, there are already a large number of pubs near or on Britain’s many ‘A’ roads, yet we do not think that they present a source of irresistible temptation to motorists. Moreover, a recent change on law in the UK allows supermarkets to sell alcohol in motorway service stations.

Perhaps the most plausible worry about opening a pub in a service station is the message that it might be understood to convey about drink-driving. Here, there seems to be  an important disanalogy between having a pub in a service station and allowing a pub near to an ‘A’ road. It seems that the primary purpose of service stations is to provide motorists with a place to rest from driving; they are not intended as a place to visit in the same way that a country pub might. With this in mind, there might be some credence to the claim that allowing a pub in a service station serves to legitimise drinking as part of the motorist’s recuperation during long drives; if so, this does seem to represent a way in which the presence of a Wetherspoon’s pub might serve to incite more people to drink whilst they are driving.

Moreover, we might also point out that there is a disanalogy between having a pub in a service station and selling alcohol in a service station supermarket, in so far as making alcohol available in a ‘pub’ setting would normally seem to make the availability of alcohol far more salient to the motorist than merely selling it in a service station supermarket.

This is not intended as a knock-down argument against the development. As I mentioned at the outset, it is an empirical question as to whether the presence of a pub in a service station would increase the number of motorists drink-driving, and the devil will very much be in the detail. However, I believe that the above represents one of the more plausible reasons for why the presence of a pub in a service station might possibly increase the numbers of motorists drink driving.

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3 Responses to One for the Road? . . .

  • Adrien G. says:

    By ‘availability’ you do mean that the presence of a pub conveys the mesage ‘please have a sit and enjoy our alcoholic beverages right now’ as opposed to the supermarket ‘s ‘please enjoy our alcoholic beverages when you so please’ ?

  • jonnypugh says:

    Thanks for the comment Adrien. I think that what you point out is certainly part of what I mean. However, I also meant to capture the idea that a passer by is more likely to be drawn to think of purchasing alcohol walking past a pub than they are when walking past a supermarket, on the basis that supermarkets are normally more associated with selling food items. This is what I meant by claiming that a pub makes the availability of alcohol salient. Hope this clarifies things!

  • Adrien says:

    Thanks for your reply. I agree with your second point. And I agree with your post if indeed what I pointed out is part of what you mean.

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