Editorial — Correct decision on drinking driving laws
On Wednesday, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld most of the province's new drinking and driving laws, with a notable exception. That exception — drivers who are believed to have blood alcohol samples over .08 will no longer be subject to automatic roadside penalties, but instead may be tested at a police station, and then (depending on the test results) charged with impaired driving.
The new strict laws have had a dramatic effect on many people. More than 23,000 people have been caught up in the net since the new laws went into effect about 14 months ago. Most of them have been given suspensions and stiff monetary penalties. Many others have changed their habits, in some cases drastically. They are either not drinking at all before driving, or being very cautious if they plan to drive.
Businesses that depend on the sales of alcohol have been hard hit, with some offering rides home as an incentive. But there has been a definite shift in attitudes, particularly in areas like Langley where transit is not a viable option.
Even with one part of the new penalties being overturned, the new, get tough approach has likely caused a permanent change in societal attitudes towards drinking and driving.
This is for the better. The province estimates that at least 45 lives have been saved, and while that is simply conjecture, the number of alcohol-related deaths on the roads has fallen quite dramatically in the past year.
The court decision does, however, come to the welcome conclusion that inordinately stiff penalties cannot be levied by police with virtually no chance to question the decision.
Driving with a blood alcohol level over .08 is a criminal offence. Criminals don’t get charged, convicted and fined on the spot when they commit other offences. They are subject to the judicial process, which comes to a final decision of guilt or innocence based on testimony, the admissibility of evidence and the facts in front of the judge or jury.
The province has no right, under the constitution, to decide on criminal law.That authority belongs to Ottawa.
The province can levy fines for offences related to drivers’ licences and the use of roads.That’s why the stiff penalties remain for those who blow in the ‘warn’ range of .05 to .08. There are no Criminal Code offences involved.
No one will seriously argue that drinking and driving is a good thing. The more people keep the two activities apart, the better. But that does not mean that the province should act with impunity in matters which clearly involve possible criminal activity.
Stiff administrative penaIties remain as possibilities for many drivers, so there is no excuse to drink and drive over the Christmas holidays, or at any other time.
It is now up to the province to revise the law, so that it provides proper safeguards for people accused of the criminal offence of impaired driving.