On Thursday, February 4, the Erie County Legislature voted on whether to keep the bar closing times in Erie County at 4 AM or change them to 2 AM. The decision came after months of debate and voting delays, as well as a public hearing on the matter two days before the final vote. Several Erie County residents, legislators, and law enforcement officers attended the hearing and spoke out both in favor of and against changing the bar closing time. Ultimately, the Legislature voted to dismiss the motion and to keep the Erie County bar closing time at 4 AM. Although the vote did not change Erie County’s bar closing times, it brought several issues to the forefront of people’s minds. Find out what the discussion was about and why it may still have an effect on you.
Last call may be public safety issue
Erie County is one of 23 counties in New York State that have a 4 AM last call. This amounts to just over 1/3 of the counties in New York. All of the other counties with this closing time, however, are on the eastern side of the state, including Albany, Saratoga, and all of the counties in the New York City area. This singles Erie County out among Western New York counties, as well as most Central New York counties.
Despite being the only county in Western New York to have a 4 AM last call, Erie County actually has a fairly low rate of DWIs and DWI-related fatalities. Erie County Legislator Edward Rath (R) made a statement saying, "77% of counties across New York State have higher DWIs and DWI-related fatalities than Erie County." This could indicate that bar closing times have little to do with how dangerous the roads are. Legislator Ted Morton (R), who introduced the resolution to change the bar closing time to 2 AM, expressed concerns about public safety issues, including DWI and domestic violence. “Going from 4 AM to 2 AM will not eliminate it,” he said, “but it certainly can reduce it.”
Scott Zylka, a spokesman for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, presented evidence at the public hearing that countered Morton’s claim. He explained that, of the 239 DWI arrests made in Erie County in 2015, only 21 were made after 4 AM. 48 were made during the three hours following happy hour and 51 were made from 2 AM to 5 AM. The time period with the largest number of DWI arrests in 2015 was actually from midnight to 2 AM. During that time, 87 DWI arrests were made in Erie County. These statistics “do not bear out that it is a public safety issue”, Zylka said.
Impact on small businesses and WNY culture
In addition to not having a large impact on public safety, arguments were made that changing last call to 2 AM would hurt Western New York businesses. Legislator Joseph Lorigo (R) called the change “a completely unnecessary overregulation and burden on small businesses in Western New York.” One bar owner estimated that his business would lose as much as $70,000 per year if the closing time were changed. This loss of revenue could also mean that employees in these bars may lose their jobs. It could also have a detrimental effect on the culture of Western New York, as second shift workers would have no bars to go to in order to unwind after work.
Although the Erie County Legislature voted to keep the bar closing time at 4 AM, many people are now more conscious of the consequences of driving drunk and leaving bars while still intoxicated. If you have been charged with DWI or are concerned about what this increased vigilance may mean for you, contact the attorneys at Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria. The firm’s DWI attorneys know your rights and will be able to find out what penalties you may be facing so that they can better defend you and get you the best possible outcome.
This article does not purport to give legal advice and is for informational purposes only.