For impaired driving in Canada, it’s been a year of mixed signals. On the one hand, drunk driving is generally on the decline, thanks to many factors. On the other hand, some provinces are experiencing rashes of road calamities thanks to alcohol.
And while Ontario’s metro areas do better than most places for impaired driving, there were exceptions: York saw more deaths from drunk drivers this year than last, and more impaired driving incidents all told – more than 1,625. In comparison, 1,240 in 2013 and 1,470 the year after that.
Police and road safety advocates are understandably concerned that the decline is slowing. One of the ways the issue might be addressed is Private Members’ Bill C-226, which was introduced by Conservative MP Steven Blaney. Among other things, it would change the ground rules for officers who pursue impaired drivers. Long story short, it makes it faster and easier for an officer to declare he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect impaired driving.
C-226: Sweeping Changes to Impaired Driving Landscape
Some of the changes to the laws that C-226 would bring about include:
- Longer mandatory sentences for impaired driving causing bodily harm and death – up to 25 years for the latter
- The possibility of consecutive sentences if more than one person was killed
- Escalating penalties for repeat offenders
- Police could ask any driver any time for a breath sample, whether or not the vehicle was in motion
- Possibility of lighter sentences for those pleading guilty
The last measure would speed up the court calendar, since delays are often a problem in the system
What is Reasonable Search for Impaired Driving?
The part of bill C-226 that is most controversial involves how a police officer approaches a person thought to be a drunk driver.
Right now, a police officer can demand a breath sample of a driver if he or she suspects impairment. But subsequently the court must find that the suspicion was “reasonable” or the case will be rejected. Once the vehicle is stopped on “reasonable” grounds, the officer must either get the driver to admit to having consumed alcohol, or must detect the odour of alcohol on the driver’s breath.
The bill changes things. It lets officers randomly stop and check drivers for impairment, a power which some see as in direct contravention of the Charter. It also sets down a list of signs of impairment that an officer can use as reasonable grounds. While such signs – erratic driving, for example – are already used by police, the worry is that the officers can just use the listed indications as grounds without a real suspicion of their own.
The bill does not emphasize one area that legislators often go after: repeat offenders. In particular, ignition interlock devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are an effective DUI preventive. This bill concentrates on the capture of impaired drivers, and their punishment, rather than the much more cost-effective prevention that technology offers in the form of an ignition interlock device.
Private Member’s Bill C-226, which has the support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada, is still in committee. It might or might not pass, and it might or might not be the right solution for the problem that still causes too many fatalities across Canada. But clearly the decline in alcohol-related road deaths in Canada is not ordained to continue down to zero. It will stall unless some measures are taken to keep more impaired drivers off the road.