Drive-thru Beer Stores spark impaired-driving concerns

A Beer Store drive-thru in London, Ont.
A Beer Store drive-thru in London, Ont.

The Beer Store’s plan to expand its network of drive-thru locations in Ontario has sparked a conversation about whether being able to pick up booze without having to set foot in the store encourages drinking and driving.

The Ontario chain plans to open a drive-thru store in Cambridge on Monday and another one in Peterborough on July 16, bringing the total in the province to six. The others are in Hamilton, Kitchener, London and Woodstock.

“It’s just added convenience,” said Tom Wisener, The Beer Store’s director of retail operations, adding it's particularly convenient for seniors and people with disabilities.

But Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, said drive-thrus make it harder for retailers to tell whether a customer is already impaired.

“If the person’s in the car, you don’t get to see them walk. You don’t get to see what you would usually count on — the physical displays of intoxication,” Murie said.

But Wisener said there are other signals of impairment that Beer Store employees are trained to recognize — like red eyes, slurred speech and fumbling for cash.

“All of that is still right there. It’s very clear to us whether you’ve been drinking or not,” he said.

The concept of drive-thru beer stores isn't unique to Ontario. Both British Columbia and Saskatchewan have drive-thru liquor stores, as do a number of states south of the border, all of which Murie says is of concern.

In Illinois, the local MADD chapter has pushed to have drive-thru liquor stores banned. MADD Illinois CEO Susan McKeigue told CBS: “It just makes it easier, and more accessible to drink and drive.”

In Prince Albert, Sask., the city passed a bylaw banning taxi cab drivers from picking up alcohol at the local drive-thru over concerns they were being coerced into buying booze for intoxicated minors. 

Now, the new Beer Stores have locals talking about the safety of drive-thru booze in their communities. Eric Drozd from 570 News in Kitchener, near Cambridge, tweeted last month: “Does a beer store with a drive-thru promote drinking and driving?”

Wisener said the answer is: “Absolutely not.”

About 80 per cent of Beer Store customers drive to the stores, Wisener said. Whether they pull up alongside or park in front makes no difference, he said.

“Every community where we’ve opened these up, we’ve had no issues at all.”

Murie said the provincially-run LCBO, which works closely with MADD, has never opened a drive-thru shop.

“The gold-medal standard of retailing alcohol is the LCBO,” he said.  “The fact that they have never instituted drive-thrus is probably a statement in and of itself.

LCBO spokeswoman Keeley Rogers said the liquor chain has no plans to open any drive-thrus in the province, but would not comment on their safety.

“As we have no direct experience in operating drive-thru stores, we have no opinion as to whether or not they are any less socially responsible,” she said.

Unlike the LCBO, The Beer Store doesn't work directly with MADD Canada. Instead, it partners with Arrive Alive, an Ontario non-profit that aims to prevent impaired driving.

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