Can A Bartender Take Your Keys? (Useful Guide)

can a bartender take your keys
Joe | Last Updated: April 23, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

Today, we’re going to discuss a topic that needs more attention and answer a question that often comes up when discussing drunk drivers. “Can a bartender take your keys?”

Every day in the United States, 29 people die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, which equates to one death every 50 minutes.

Alcohol has a dramatic effect on decision-making. Inhibitions are lost which can quickly lead to poor decisions that ultimately may cost the lives of themselves and others.

While under the influence of alcohol people believe they are more capable than they actually are and may not think twice about hopping into their car instead of taking a taxi home.

In short, NO, a bartender can NOT legally take your keys from you. While they may only be trying to save your life by confiscating your car keys, they are unable to take a person’s keys and instead can call law enforcement who has the power to arrest you.

Can Bartenders Take Car Keys?

Bartenders are UNABLE to take a person’s car keys from them, even if they are heavily intoxicated and are in no fit state to drive a motor vehicle.

Theft and inciting violence are illegal, and taking a person’s car keys from them even if your trying to save their life could be classed as both.

Instead of confiscating car keys, stop serving the intoxicated person and try to ensure they sit down, call a cab, recover and drink lots of water before they head home.

can a bartender take your keys

It’s incredibly difficult to ensure somebody who is very drunk stops drinking alcohol, so consider pulling one of their friends to one side and advising them that they have had enough to drink.

If you feel like that person is going to drive regardless of what you say, call law enforcement and advise them of the situation beforehand.

You may be saving multiple lives by doing so.

Are Bars Liable For Drunk Drivers?

A bar is NOT liable because it served someone who later chose to drunk drive. The person must have been visibly intoxicated such that the bar should have refused further service to that person.

However, in some states, this can be different. In Texas, bars may be civilly liable for serving alcohol to a customer under limited circumstances.

See, bars are incentivized to sell as much alcohol as possible as this is how they run their business and make money. This means that in some states, bars may be held partially responsible for any accidents that result from serving an intoxicated person.

I’ve seen it many times, bartenders serving customers under the instruction of owners when the patron is clearly well over the limit and far too drunk.

Whilst this may make the greedy bar owner more money in the short term, it. can come back around to bite them if the patron is involved in an accident after they leave the bar.

Pro tip – DO NOT under any circumstances continue to serve alcohol to a customer who is clearly intoxicated.

Why Might A Bartender Want To Take Your Keys?

Whilst a bartender is legally UNABLE to confiscate your keys, they may sometimes do so of their own accord to try and stop you from harming yourself.

This isn’t to be malicious or confrontational, but to protect you from your own actions as drunk driving is incredibly dangerous for everyone involved.

If you’re a regular in the bar and friendly with the bartender, they may try to confiscate your keys until the morning to ensure that you do not drive home while intoxicated.

It’s VERY rare that a bartender would ever try to take your keys, but if they do it’s a sign that you are clearly far too intoxicated for your own good and they are trying to look out for you.

Oftentimes they may request you to remove your car key and separate them from your house key so that they can be sure you do not drive home and risk your life.

Other times, bartenders may be overly assertive and aggressive, trying to forcefully take your keys from you. If this is the case, you are well within the law to refuse.

Can You Take A Drunk Persons Keys?

The lines are blurry when it comes to taking a drunk person’s keys, but to do so legally the person much be an imminent threat to themselves and others to avoid theft charges.

In the eyes of the law, the only way you can take a drunk person’s keys from them is if there is a sure threat, meaning they are just about to drive or are guaranteed to do so.

Don’t just reach your hand into your friend’s pocket after they’ve had one Budweiser, the individual must be visibly intoxicated and pose a threat to themselves and others for you to legally confiscate keys.

Taking someone’s keys from them must be a last resort, and before proceeding to do so you must plead with them if you’re comfortable enough to do so with the individual.

To confiscate a person’s keys, you should not have caused the original crime. This means that you shouldn’t buy someone multiple drinks and get them drunk before insisting that you take their keys from them at the end of the night.

Drunk Driving Dangers

Drunk driving is getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or above.

It’s INCREDIBLY dangerous and should be avoided at all costs, however, it’s prevalent in the bar scene and bartenders often deal with tough decisions as to whether to confiscate an individual’s car keys to prevent it.

But what are the dangers of drunk driving? Well, alcohol slows down reaction times drastically which means that drivers are unable to react quickly enough to drive safely.

can a bartender take your keys
Photo by rebcenter moscow

Alcohol also impairs judgment and can lead people to believe they are capable of driving, even when they are clearly not.

Not only do drunk drivers risk losing their license and being prosecuted, but they risk the lives of themselves and others by getting behind the wheel when under the influence of alcohol.

Drivers with a blood alcohol level of between 0.02 and 0.05 have at least a three times greater risk of dying in a vehicle crash, and the risk increases to six times with a BAC of between 0.05 and 0.08.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now have a clear answer to “can a bartender take your keys” and a better understanding of the law surrounding the decisions many bartenders are forced to make.

Whilst it’s easy to turn a blind eye when serving customers alcohol, it’s important to always be vigilant and if someone is clearly intoxicated, STOP SERVING THEM.

Bartenders are legally not allowed to take a person’s keys from them in most states, but there are situations where a judgment call must be made to protect the individual and other road users.

Instead of confiscating a person’s keys, instead have a word with their friends or if the threat is imminent and they are guaranteed to drive the law is then on your side.

Bartenders have to be careful in these situations as they don’t want to get themselves prosecuted for theft, but also don’t want to face the guilt of knowing they let a person drive whilst heavily intoxicated.

If you do decide to go to the bar, leave your keys at home. DO NOT, under any circumstances get behind the car while intoxicated, and be self-aware enough to understand that your judgment is impaired while under the influence.

Stay safe out there!