Tougher driving laws changing New Year party plans

Tougher drunk driving laws introduced this year, combined with long taxi waits, have many Edmonton party-goers cutting back this New Years.
Pubs in Edmonton say confusion around new drunk driving laws and long taxi wait times mean fewer customers and fewer drinks. (CBC News)

Tougher impaired driving legislation introduced in Alberta earlier this year has party-goers thinking twice when it comes to New Year’s partying and restaurants say they’re feeling the hit. 

"Patrons are definitely changing their behaviour in that, if they would have in the past had two drinks, now it'll just be one because it's not worth the risk," said Gillian Hodgson, a marketing manager at the Mercer Tavern downtown.

She said many customers feel uncertain about the new legislation.

Under the new law, which came into effect in September, drivers who blow a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08 will lose their licences and vehicles for three days.

Penalties for those who blow above .08 remain unchanged.

Hodgson said her staff has been trained to be more aware of keeping drivers off the road since September.

"Pull them aside to say, 'Listen, we'd like to arrange a cab ride for you. And we've noticed that you've maybe had one too many,’ " she said.

However, many say that it’s not as easy as simply hopping into a cab.

With waits of more than an hour reported on weekends, many party-goers aren’t keen on waiting in the cold for a ride.

The city is considering whether more cabs are needed in Edmonton. In the meantime, veteran cab driver Bill Dhanoa said it is better to flag down a passing taxi.

"No use calling because it doesn't help waiting on that. So many calls."

For pub patron Tony Thibadeau, the simplest solution is to avoid drinks at dinner. He says the risk isn’t worth it.

"It's either my wife driving me to work or me losing a job potentially. So, it's a lot bigger than just a suspension and loss of car for a period of time. It could be loss of income, loss of employment."