Big changes are on the way for Alberta drunk driving laws, and when they pass they will affect anyone who is arrested for drunk driving in the province.
Thanks to a ruling from the Alberta Court of Appeal last May, certain Alberta drunk driving laws were struck down. The ruling found that it was unconstitutional to tie a driver’s license suspension to the outcome of a court case. In light of this, the government is putting its focus on Bill 29 and the removal of criminal charges for first time drunk driving offenders.
Bill 29 will change a few things in Alberta. First, it will penalize anyone who blows over the legal limit with a three-month driver’s license suspension. If that offender gets through the three-month suspension, he or she will get their license back if they join the Alberta ignition interlock program for one year. If they don’t want to join that’s OK too, but they will still have a driver’s license suspension for 12 more months.
The major change to take away from Bill 29 is that there are no associated criminal charges with the license suspensions. Removing the mandatory criminal charge for impaired driving means that the province itself is able to decide whether or not they will criminally prosecute an impaired driver.
Where is Alberta heading with Bill 29? It’s starting to take on a pattern that’s similar to British Columbia’s impaired driving laws. British Columbia police will hand a first offender fines, immediate roadside suspensions, roadside towing, and driver’s license suspensions instead of criminal charges.
Alberta’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is supportive of decriminalizing the process of drunk driving. They’ve cited a clogged court system, where 40 per cent of provincial trial time is taken up with impaired driving cases, as one of the reasons why drunk drivers keep driving. If prosecution time was reserved for serious offenders and first-time offenders were dealt with quickly by the police, people may stop driving impaired.
Time will tell if taking this step works in Alberta, but if British Columbia’s success is any indication, it’s a good step for the province to take.