Rotorua bars have a social responsibility to sober drivers, says a road safety advocate.

Rotorua District Council road safety co-ordinator Jodie Lawson said bars should offer free water to anyone, especially those who choose to sober drive.

Her comments come after a woman was denied free tap water in a Tauranga bar and was told she would have to buy bottled water.

Kas Craw, who went to the Stock Xchange Bar and Cafe after dining out with friends, said when she and a friend, who were sober drivers, asked for a glass of water they were told they would have to buy bottled water.


Ms Lawson said she was shocked to hear a bar denied a sober driver free water.

"I don't know the circumstances surrounding this, people could have abused this which is why they didn't offer free water but it makes good business sense to offer free water."

She said she would encourage people to go to bars which provided free water or soft drinks to those who were sober drivers.

Dr Andrew Hearn, the Health Promotion Agency's general manager of research, policy and advice, said there was no statutory requirement under the Sale of Liquor Act to provide free water.

"However, providing free water is seen as good host responsibility and the regulatory agencies encourage licensees and their bar staff to do so. Many do," he said.

Hospitality Association of New Zealand vice-president and Rotorua publican Reg Hennessy said it was his policy to give free water to anyone. "We have no issues with providing people with free water, we will add ice and garnish it, too.

"To be honest, I think the tradition of having a sober driver is dying out and giving free soft drinks to sober drivers isn't something we would do but making someone buy bottled water is ridiculous."

He said none of his Rotorua bars sold bottled water.

"All our water is purified so we have no need for bottled water. I think it is terrible if bars decide to charge people for water."

Lava Bar manager Tony Gallacher said the bar had bottles of water and glasses which were placed on the bar for patrons to help themselves to. "It just makes more sense.

"We don't charge for water and this way people can help themselves and it speeds up service time."

He said although bar staff would provide soft drinks to sober drivers it was up to their own discretion and it wasn't something they were obliged to do.

"It isn't something which we advertise but if someone came in and ordered a round of four beers and a Coke for the sober driver we would usually give the soft drink free."