BC impaired driving laws take a hit

Last week I was devastated when I read the news report that the British Columbia (BC) Supreme Court struck down part of that government’s controversial roadside suspension law aimed at cracking down on impaired driving.

In Canada, impaired driving laws are handled at a provincial level so every province does it a bit different. In most provinces, if you blow a fail on a roadside breathalyzer, you are taken to the police station to blow into a more sophisticated breathalyzer that gives an actual blood alcohol reading. With a blood alcohol reading of over .08, you’re charged with impaired driving, issued a 24-hour driving suspension and given a court date. Once the 24-hours pass, you’re free to drive until your court date where you have the opportunity to challenge the charge. If found not-guilty, voila, no harm, no foul. If however you are found guilty, you face a variety of penalties (depending on the province) but generally it’s a 1-year driving suspension and a $1000+ fine. The time between being charged and the court date can be months. I’ve seen some cases where it was nearly a year before the person actually had to face the music.

However, British Columbia was one province that had really kicked things up a notch. They were leading the way with impaired driving legislation that was actually making a real and significant difference getting drunks off the road and saving lives.

They passed legislation where drivers got an immediate 90-day suspension for blowing a fail (over .08) into a roadside breathalyzer and an immediate suspensions of up to 30 days for blowing a warn (.05 to .08) in a roadside breathalyzer. They also faced other penalties and costs of up to $4000. The real difference here was that police no longer had to take drivers to the police station for a full breath analysis to impose these longer bans and drivers still had to face criminal charges etc to boot.

Officials say that the law was instrumental in reducing drunk driving deaths this year by 40% compared to the average of the previous five years.

Then this week, the BC Supreme Court found that while the objective of the law — to remove drunk drivers from the road — was a “compelling and important” the driving bans and penalties were unreasonable for drivers who registered a “fail” on the roadside screening devices. The law was deemed unconstitutional because it violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

News reports indicated that the issue revolved around the use of the approved screening device and the ability for an individual to specifically challenge the reading of the device. Essentially, drivers were being forced to face some pretty severe penalties before A) having had a full breath analysis done and B) being given an opportunity to fight the charge in court.

New reports also indicated that restaurant and bar owners were singing the praises of the law being struck down because since it had been in place, their business had suffered a major lull at happy hour. They claim people were terrified to stop and grab even one drink with penalties so severe for just 1 drink too many. Shame, eh?! Who cares about the lives saved when the bottom line suffers?!?!

I read a great opinion piece by Jim Kenzie’s where he came down pretty hard on the judge for his decision (yeahhhhh Jim – give him hell!). He asked whose rights were more important. And what about every drivers’ right to be free from being run into, injured or killed by drunk drivers.

Hmmm…well said Jim!

He gave the example of how Ontario police can issue immediate licence suspensions, impound cars on the spot, and issue heavy fines for anyone driving 50 km over the speed limit. A law that was challenged and found constitutional! Isn’t that the essentially the same thing??!?!

I loved how Jim said “All laws restrict our rights and freedoms to some degree. It is up to Supreme Court judges to determine how far the laws should go.

I couldn’t agree more! And I believe our impaired driving legislation should go as FAR as it must to get drunks off the roads for good!

I believe our government has an obligation and a duty to every man, woman and child to go above and beyond to keep our roads safe! Driving in Canada is a privilege, not a right.

Impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. There are over 1200 deaths a year. MADD Canada estimates that 4 Canadians DIE every single day in an impaired related crash. There are over 68,000 impaired driving-related injuries a YEAR! And, according to MADD Canada, the cost of impaired driving deaths, injuries and property damage-only crashes in Canada in 2008 was estimated at $21.62 billion.

Cost and analysis aside, I think any law that will give us a 40% reduction in lives LOST is WELL WARRANTED and outweighs any charter issue.

I feel the same way about random breath testing, which is another life-saving initiative that our Canadian government refuses to put into place because of similar Charter issues.

Interestingly enough, if you scroll down and read the comments for the news piece, you’ll see the issue is not cut and dry and there are a large number of people who, surprisingly, support the law being struck down. Hmmmmm…I wonder if they’d feel the same if their wife, husband, daughter or son was viciously and savagely murdered by an impaired driver who, after a 24-hour suspension, was free to run the roads for a good year or two while dragging them through a long and arduous court battle only to be set free by some ridiculous loop-hole?!?!?! Or at best, serves a year in jail! Hmmmm….I wonder?!?!?!?

Because I know for me…having been through it….I’d take ANY Charter violation, blow into any device, at any time, with just cause or not, if it meant one life saved! Period. That’s all there is to it! I wonder why more Canadians don’t feel the same?!?!

In the short-term, BC officials say they will re-design the provisions to comply with the Supreme Court’s view of the situation. Here’s hoping they do and in such a way that means they can get back to swift and severe penalties for those who dare put yours and my life and the lives of our loved ones at stake. There’s no room for impaired drivers on our roads – period!

What do you think? Do the laws that reduce drunk driving deaths by 40% go to far on infringing on our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Or do you think any law that gets drunks off the road, infringement or not, is worth it?

Two years ago, my beautiful mother-in-law’s life was cut tragically short by an impaired driver. In honor of Donna Jean Kennie, please don’t drink and drive. Impaired driving is 100% preventable. Think about it.

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  1. I think the supreme court needs to give its collective head a shake and see if anything rattles. My god, 40% drop in deaths? Awesome. More please. As for the charter? What about the right to life taken away by the drunks? Happy hour is losing business? good. More please. I don’t really mind having a drink. but go home first and do it.

  2. I live in the States, so this law doesn’t affect me. However, I don’t understand why we can’t devise systems to deal with both ends of this issue. For instance, if someone fails a breathalyzer test, I suggest taking them in, doing a second test, throwing them in a jail cell to sober up, and then taking them directly to a judge after 24 hours to adjudicate the case. No waiting. Due process fine, but swift justice too. It also takes way too long to get cases through our court system, despite our constitutional right to a “speedy trial.” If you drive drunk, you should have your license revoked…immediately and for a long time. But I have to admit that I’m wary about giving law enforcement officers judicial powers.

    By the way, so sorry about your mother-in-law. I have known people killed by drunk driving too, but no one so close to me. My condolences.

    • Great points Julie.
      I think that would be the ideal world because I do believe in constitutional rights etc….If someone did blow a fail, if there were able to be taken to jail to sober up and then were seen by a judge for their right to a trial swifly but…it doesn’t happen. And unfortunately in Canada, the loopholes are insane…once charged, there are so many ways to skirt conviction, it’s insane! The conviction rates are SHAMEFUL! So although I am wary of giving police officers judicial powers as well, in this instance, I feel like we have little choice in the name of saving lives.
      But…I get what you are saying and I really, really value your point of view!!
      It’s tough. Law is black and white and we live in a world of gray so finding the balance is tricky. I wish people would just NOT drink and drive and the issue would be resolved. Alas…
      Maybe someday all vehicles will detect when someone is impaired and refuse to start! Now that would ROCK!

    • And thank you so much for your condolences – I reallly appreciate that. HUGS! 🙂

  3. Nancy J Nicholson says:

    Natalie, this is so sad. I don’t think the laws have to infringe on Charter Issues to be effective. But in return, you have to have some sort of immediate penalty. If it means taking a driver to the police station to make it right with the Charter, than so be it. Put the law back in place and get the drivers off the road. If all it takes is an extra trip to the station, than so be it.

  4. Such an informative, passionate post, Natalie! I say anything that can be done, should be—in Canada, the U.S., everywhere… There are so many risks we *can’t* control; deaths due to drunk driving should not be one of them.

  5. I live in the states, too, but I’m guessing that no matter how many lives were (and could be) saved, it all boils down to money. If the bars are taking a hit at happy hour, they are paying fewer taxes. The government can’t have that. What are a few lives if it means they have more taxpayer dollars to spend (often on things the taxpayers don’t support)?

    It’s just too bad when some politicians are trying to do the right thing and they’re shot down. I’m sorry that your supreme court refuses to support a good law. Drinking and driving isn’t a right. If people want to drink to the impaired stage, do it at home.

    I’m also sorry about your mother-in-law. Such a preventable death. 😦

  6. Charter, schmarter … doesn’t the 40% reduction mean anything? Kenzie’s piece is excellent and I’ll tweet it around too. This BC turnaround is really disappointing but hopefully they will stand by their word and come up with even better legislation. Keep beating this drum, Natalie!

    • Hoorah – Charter Schmarter – love that!!! Kenzie’s piece is excellent, eh?! I do hope they come up with some changes that make the law just as effective but solid against constitutional challenges.
      I am beating away! 🙂

  7. Damn, that sucks. I guess I can see the reasoning behind the overturning, but I’m with you ~ let my ‘rights’ suffer a bit so that I might have a safer time driving. Laws that work to protect the accused drive me nutsy. Victims often have to be their own advocate, which is totally backward. They didn’t ask to be victimized, but the offender certainly asked to be guilty. Ugh!

    • I wouldn’t have any issue with my “rights” suffering a little in the name of saving lives either. When MADD Canada polled Canadians on the issue of random breath sampling, they found that the majority of Canadians had no issue with it to keep the roads safe.
      Yes, the system is nutty! While I am all for innocent till proven guilty…if you’ve blown in an approved breathalyzer that clearly shows you are over the legal limit…ummmm…isn’t that enough?!?!

  8. Can’t understand the support behind this law. Except that those who support it might have the it-will-never-happen-to-me-or-or-anyone-I-care-about syndrome. They forget that driving is a privilege and drunk drivers are a menace to public safety.

    • I absolutely agree. People forget that driving is a priviledge and they take it for granted that it’ll never happen to them (being a victim or being a perpetrator) but…it can. And it’ll be some innocent person who will suffer the consequences and that’s the saddest point of all.

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