It’s a horror that we rarely think about: giving a party, encouraging our guests to enjoy themselves, and then watching one of them get into a car and drive, even though they shouldn’t be behind the wheel in their condition.
Yet it happens often in Canada, sometimes with lethal consequences. And this brings up the question of social host liability: how responsible are you for the consequences of your guests’ drunk driving, if you supplied the alcohol?
The answer is, it’s not that clear. Everything hinges on the concept of “duty of care.” Do you have a duty of care which requires you to prevent a person from driving if he or she has drunk alcohol at your house?
In 2006 the Supreme Court of Canada said you do not. Holding a party in which alcohol is served does not give you a duty of care to others who might be injured in a drunk driving collision. There might be exceptions, if you serve a guest who is obviously intoxicated and you know he or she is driving afterwards.
But if you are hosting a party, your social host liability is one thing: your moral duty is another. You know that lives might depend on your guests’ not driving after drinking at your house. If someone who has been drinking is showing poor judgment, it is your responsibility to exercise good judgment to prevent a disaster. So always be prepared if you host a gathering with alcohol:
- Offer non-alcoholic options. Not every single drink needs to be alcoholic, and having non-alcoholic drinks around makes life easier for the designated drivers.
- Arrange a designated driver. Ask a non-drinking friend (or a friend who agrees not to drink for an evening) to be a designated driver just in case someone overdoes it. Find a creative way to make it up to him or her.
- Have a taxi number ready. Or if they prefer, help them book their favourite rideshare service.
If all else fails, gently but firmly confront your guest and tell him or her that no one leaves your house and drives while under the influence. Your house, your rules. Take the key, and be firm. If the person doesn’t thank you the next day, he or she has a problem.
We all need to know our legal rights and liabilities, but ultimately we’ll be judged on how we fulfilled our moral duty to our friends and loved ones. Being a good social host and stopping your guests from driving drunk is the right thing to do, and the best type of hospitality.