Since Sept. 20, the Province of B.C. has had the toughest impaired driving laws in the country, with automatic driving prohibitions and fines kicking in for drivers with blood alcohol content (BAC) over 0.05.
The result, say some, is a decline in business for restaurants and bars as people forgo liquor purchases with meals. Customers are telling staff that they are afraid that even one drink could put them over 0.05 per cent BAC, which at minimum would result in a three-day driving prohibition and roughly $600 in charges for a first offence.
The problem, says Lawrence Black - the owner and operator of Black's Pub and Restaurant - is that people aren't really sure what the new laws mean while the previous limit of 0.08 per cent was generally well understood.
"Everywhere I go people are asking me, 'what can I do? Is one drink really going to put me over the limit?'" he said.
"The province has not done a good job when it comes to clarity."
Black says his customers are acutely aware of the new laws and are forgoing drinks with dinner or skipping the traditional beer after work. "It's not really well understood, and people are being cautious," he said.
He says there has been no communication from the province with bar and restaurant owners since the new laws came into effect, and they haven't been provided with any information on the new laws that they can share with their customers.
David Branigan, the manager of Black's Pub, says the restaurant and pub businesses will be the most impacted by the new rules.
"People who go to the nightclubs are all over the cabs and buses already, so where this is going to have the most impact is for pubs and restaurants, and all the people that are out but not having a big night," he said. "They might have a drink after work, or a couple of drinks with a three-course dinner, and that's it. Now, they're questioning whether the risk is worth it."
Their concern is that people will stay home out of the fear of being caught under the new laws, and that the public confusion could be devastating to Whistler's tourism and hospitality industry.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an advocacy group that lobbied for the new laws, said at the time the law came into effect their intention was not to stop all social drinking. In a press release, MADD shared their own findings on the subject:
"When the changes were first announced in April (2010) some concerns were raised that the laws would penalize the social drinker who would no longer be able to enjoy a beer after work or a glass of wine with dinner for fear of reaching the 0.05 per cent BAC level. However, a 0.05 per cent BAC limit will not interfere with what most Canadians would consider to be social drinking."