When Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca addressed the legislature not long ago, he made the point that the province already has tough laws against drunk driving. Ontario’s permissible blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is the lowest in the country, to name one example. While a level of .08 percent remains the legal standard for intoxication, anyone who blows .05 or higher in a breath test is at the warning level, earning penalties.
Still, drunk drivers are on Ontario’s roads, and they are taking lives. What should be done?
Del Duca mentioned zero tolerance as one option: a permissible BAC level of zero. Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Jordan are among the countries that have gone that route.
For Mothers Against Drunk Driving, however, the problem is not the alcohol level – it is the penalties attached to those who are caught blowing .05 or above. At present, drivers endure a 3-day licence suspension. Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, prefers the system in place in B.C. and Alberta, by which the drivers’ vehicles are impounded for that time.
Does impounding DUI vehicles work? According to a 2013 review conducted by MADD, impounding vehicles of those caught with a BAC in the warn range has had dramatic effects:
- Alcohol-related crash deaths in British Columbia dropped 46% in the two years following the 2010 implementation, compared to the previous five-year average. An estimated 104 lives were saved.
- In the six months after Alberta enacted its 2012 program, alcohol-related crash deaths dropped by 46% compared to the previous five-year average. An estimated 29 lives were saved.
Murie says that the zero tolerance option is a non-starter in Canada. “I don’t think the public would allow the government to pass those types of laws.”
MADD has a good point here: a BAC level is not itself a punishment, just a standard to measure intoxication. Lowering it would be both impractical and of questionable value. But the shock of a few days without one’s vehicle would wake up most drunk drivers to the severity of their offense, and make them think very hard about getting behind the wheel in that state a second time.