OVERLAND PARK, KS (KCTV) - - Bars celebrations on New Year’s Eve will look different due to COVID-19, but there’s still a significant concern about drunk driving. The only difference is where.
Gatherings at the typical party spots like Power & Light will be a lot smaller. Many people will be celebrating from home, and one local DUI lawyer says that’s part of the problem
Johnson County defense attorney Brandan Davies carefully hid client names while pointing to a hefty stack of his current DUI case files.
“In the last month or two it’s definitely ramped up,” said Davies. “I think more people are starting to get back out of their houses, starting to go see their friends and family for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
He expects the same trend for New Year’s Eve. With no big bashes and health concerns about crowds, small gatherings will put impaired drivers on the road.
Overland Park Police Officer John Lacy concurs.
“We hope that the DUI numbers are low this year for New Year’s, however, we have a funny feeling that people are not going to be at the bars,” Lacy speculated. “They’re going to be in residential areas.”
The dawn of Uber and Lyft made it a lot easier to get a ride home in recent years, but Davies is hearing again and again now from clients who planned to use a taxi or ride share, then found them harder to come by outside of the high traffic areas.
“Waiting and waiting and waiting and didn’t ever get an Uber or sat there long enough that ‘I thought I had sobered up and decided to drive back myself.’ I’ve heard that story several times. Pre-COVID I never heard that story,” said Davies.
Lacy said their annual saturation patrols will be more scattered this year to address the shift away from bars, which have mandated capacity limits and early closing hours.
“We’re going to be spread out through the whole entire city, from 47th street all the way down to 290th street,” Lacy emphasized.
While recent COVID-19 restrictions on bars are driving more people to small gatherings, it could also be driving more people into Overland Park. Bars in Kansas City, Missouri must close at 10 p.m. Johnson County bars can stay open until midnight.
“There’s a pretty good chance we may take the brunt of that,” said Lacy.
He worries officers in his region will be faced with people driving from Missouri already half in the bag to get those last two hours in.
But that’s a bad idea for more than just safety reasons.
“Most of these bars will have a capacity, so once you leave the bar in Missouri and you come over to the Kansas side, you may not be able to get in,” explained Lacy.
A former prosecutor who now counsels the Overland Park Police Department noted people often get more sloshed at home gatherings than at bars. It costs less, there’s no line to slow you down and no bartender to cut you off.
Of course, infectious disease experts would prefer people not invite anyone outside of their own household to join them for a toast, but there is one advantage to that over a bar. You don’t have to go home at the end of the night.
“Crash on a sofa if you have to,” Lacy suggested.
He’s hoping the bad road conditions expected Thursday night will keep people home and off the roads.
Meanwhile, the Power & Light District’s website says they’ll still have a party. It will just be at individual establishments - no milling around - and the toast will happen early as they have to close at 10 p.m.