New Brunswick

New drinking, driving law could hurt bars

Some bar owners and wine critics are concerned the New Brunswick government's stronger drinking and driving rule could hurt business.

Some bar owners and wine critics are concerned the New Brunswick government's stronger drinking and driving rule could hurt business.

Starting June 24, drivers will have their licence suspended for a week if they are caught with a roadside breathalyzer reading between 0.05 and 0.08 — even though they're below the legal limit.

A Saint John business owner said the tougher drinking and driving rule is more bad news for his industry.

Kevin Ferguson, the co-owner of O'Leary's Pub, said they've just been hit with a minimum wage increase and now he is concerned these new rules could cost him revenue.

"All the different changes that have happened in this industry, definitely it's going to have an effect on the bottom line as well as sales because people may not come out," he said.

"It's not going to be a make or break decision for us here because I think we'll be fine. It could be tight for some businesses, but they're going to have to maybe sharpen up and make it work for themselves."

Ferguson stressed he doesn't support drinking and driving, but he believes the new rule is too harsh and will punish social drinkers along with the problem ones.

The change is under the provincial Motor Vehicle Act. Currently, the suspension is only 24 hours.

This is different than a criminal charge of impaired driving under the Criminal Code. The legal blood alcohol concentration limit in Canada is 0.08 per cent.

Craig Pinhey, a wine writer and sommelier, said many people don't know how many drinks they can have before they hit the new limit of 0.05. He believes the new rule will scare some people from going out and having any drinks at all.

"It's unreasonable to expect people to walk everywhere or pay cabs everywhere. I can't afford it and I don't know many people who can.

"To get in and out of the city is $50 a cab. For a $15 lunch? It's just not going to happen. People are going to drink at home instead," Pinhey said.

When Public Safety Minister Robert Trevors announced the changes on May 27, many law enforcement officials and families were in the audience.

Kali O'Dell, 16, was one of the people who was in the public gallery. She and her younger brother Jeremy survived a head-on collision with a drunk driver that took the lives of their parents.

She told reporters last week the tougher limits for blood alcohol may convince drivers they shouldn't risk losing their licences.

Solutions needed

A Saint John restaurant owner doesn't believe the new provincial rule will have much of an impact on restaurants. Margret Begner, the co-owner of Opera Bistro, said people will still go out to eat, although they may order fewer drinks.

Still, Begner agrees it could hurt bars, pubs and lounges.

She thinks businesses in the hospitality sector just need to work together to find creative solutions that benefit everyone.

"I think that it's our responsibility somehow as well as the business owners to ensure that our customers, our guests, our friends, get a safe drive back," Begner said.

Begner said she plans to talk to other business owners about trying to negotiate lower rates with cab companies, or even offering a program similar to Operation Red Nose, which provides free, safe rides home during the holidays.

"If something like that is possible just for a certain time, then there should be ways as well that we have to find and that we have to develop certain things that will be available here around for the people that will take advantage of that," she said.