Tougher penalties for impaired driving may be changing how people drink in Sask.

The president of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association says 2017 was the year when the province's war on impaired driving hit home.

Industry association says bar and hotel operators are noticing people consuming less alcohol

Jim Bence estimates about 19 or 20 small-town establishments which served alcohol closed down in 2017. (CBC)

Jim Bence says 2017 will go into the books as the year when the province's war on impaired driving hit the businesses that serve booze.

"It was a really tough year for many of our members and for the folks in the bar and restaurant world," said Bence, the president of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association.

"A number of things have occurred. Number one was the new laws around drinking and driving. There was the PST; there's the SGI lawsuit that involves owners of bars that allegedly overserved."

Bence said operators aren't asking that the tougher laws get rolled back; it's just that the businesses are feeling the effects.

A year ago, Saskatchewan Government Insurance changed the rules around blood-alcohol levels and the temporary seizure of vehicles. The blood-alcohol threshold for a vehicle seizure went from .08 down to .04. The legal limit for prosecution on an impaired driving charge is still .08.

"People were far more aware that what they may have had in the past, maybe four drinks, is now two. When it goes from .08 to .04 we understand that we're going to have to limit the amount that we consume alcohol, so that really was the one big number," Bence said.

All operators, whether they're rural or urban, have said that they've seen a dramatic change in how it is that people consumed alcohol.- Jim Bence, Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association president

"All operators, whether they're rural or urban, have said that they've seen a dramatic change in how it is that people consumed alcohol."

He said this has had a ripple effect, especially outside of the larger cities. Bence said a number of small-town bars closed down last year.

"We lost probably 19 or 20, for sure, of the small ones," he said.

Bence cautioned that the demise of the small-town hotel/bar cannot be laid exclusively at the feet of tougher impaired driving laws, but it's definitely a factor.