For the last five years British Columbia has been in the forefront of Canada’s battle against drunk driving. In 2010 the province decided it had had enough alcohol-related crashes, and took a step that was unprecedented in North America: it lowered the threshold of impairment from a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .08 to .05. If a driver registered .05 on a breath test, the penalties were swift and severe: a fine, immediate licence suspension of up to three months, and a three-day vehicle impoundment. The offender had to pay for the impoundment and recovery, and might also be required to install an ignition interlock, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
While the effects of the new DUI laws were dramatic – alcohol-related road fatalities were reduced by about half – not everyone was pleased by the new law. Civil-liberties advocates object to the immediate suspension and impoundment, which take place without trial or opportunity to protest if an offender fails a breath test or refuses to submit to one.
Now the stage is set for another battle. Those optional programs for treatment and ignition interlocks are set to become mandatory if new legislation is passed. In order to continue holding a licence, must complete “one or more” remedial and/or ignition interlock programs.
Supporters of the changes to the DUI laws claim they are designed to help those who drink and drive despite standard prohibitions and penalties. Getting them to a counseling or rehab program might help them deal with their problem. Installing an ignition interlock prevents them from driving while impaired during the course of their treatment.
The nature of immediate suspensions has never sat well with civil liberties activists, and they can be expected to fight to limit the power that police have at the roadside.
The trend in Canada, and in the United States as well, is for drunk driving legislation to get stricter as times goes on. This new B.C. legislation will continue to test Canada’s limits, and set the stage for more and tougher laws in the future.