Will Harsher Drunk Driving Laws Work In Canada?

Is drunk-driving still a problem in the country? A quick look at the latest headlines will show you that it is, and very much so. So if you’re in search of a DUI lawyer in Alberta, you’re not alone. Even with crime rates going down, hundreds of people are still getting killed in car crashes, while thousands more are injured every single year.

When federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced his plans to impose harsher impaired-driving laws in Canada, it didn’t surprise anyone. Nicholson wanted law enforcement to have more power to conduct roadside breath tests. Prior to this, officers could only use the Breathalyzer if there’s reasonable suspicion of DUI. Random checks, also referred to as RBT, have long been allowed in Australia and various European countries.

Is It Effective?

But while RBTs have been imposed in some countries for the past 30 years, there’s no concrete proof that this practice reduces the number of drunk-driving crashes.

Since 1921, driving while intoxicated has been illegal in Canada. But it wasn’t until 1969 that drunk driving was considered a serious crime. In December of that year, a law was passed which prohibited drivers from operating/controlling a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 80mg per 100ml of blood.

But one thing we all need to understand is that the 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is not a perfect measure. We have varying levels of impairment. One person may be impaired when his BAC reaches 0.08%, while another may be able to drive safely with a higher BAC.

The charts suggest that it takes 4-5 drinks for a 180-lb man over the course of 2 hours to hit this limit, while a 120-lb woman can reach this limit with just 2-3 drinks. Factoring in a margin for error, an impaired driving charge is only given when a person reaches 0.10%.

Penalties and Consequences

If you are charged with impaired driving, you will need to pay a minimum fine of $1000 and a suspension of your licence for one year. This applies only to first-time offenders. If you’re tagged for the second time, you will be jailed for at least a month, pay a fine and your licence suspended. Subsequent convictions could mean a longer jail sentence of up to 5 years. If you cause bodily harm or death, you could get a life sentence.

How Big is the Problem?

With harsher penalties in place, one has to wonder: who continues to drive while intoxicated? Data from the 2008 Road Safety Monitor showed that 80% of Canadians are more concerned about impaired driving than they are of crime, economy or global warming. When asked about their own driving behaviour, about 5% admitted to driving even when they thought they were above the legal limit. That’s a very small group of people. People are aware of the consequences of drunk driving and most of them do follow the law. This is unlike speeding where people say they are concerned but still do it all the time.

A sociologist at the University of Buffalo, Thomas  Nochajski, has led a study for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and ALCOHOLISM, focusing on drunk drivers. According to Nochajski, they fit into several subgroups: young people who are unaware of their limits, women with a history of abuse, chronic older offenders, and those with a history of addiction. His research hints that tough solutions are unlikely to work; and that tailored programs may prove to be the better solution.

One encouraging strategy is the creation of special courts for drunk drivers. Instead of sending repeat offenders to jail, they are placed in intensive alcohol treatment programs and are required to appear before a judge weekly to monitor their progress. In the United States, there are over 500 of these courts and they have helped the government save money as well as significantly reduce recidivism.

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