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Sober second thoughts on drunk driving
« on: August 12, 2017, 07:03:04 PM »
Sober second thoughts on drunk driving

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s proposal to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers to .05 per cent from .08 per cent seems logical, based on the evidence. But will toughening the sanctions against drunk driving actually reduce the number of drinking-related road fatalities and accidents? Not by itself. Back in 1969, when the […]

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s proposal to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers to .05 per cent from .08 per cent seems logical, based on the evidence. But will toughening the sanctions against drunk driving actually reduce the number of drinking-related road fatalities and accidents? Not by itself.


Back in 1969, when the .08 per cent standard became law, it was considered the point of significant impairment. Newer research, however, says the number is really .05 per cent. At that level, there is a considerable reduction in the skills required to drive and the likelihood of being involved in a fatal accident sharply increases.


Some countries have already adopted the .05 per cent standard, and Wilson-Raybould, who has been discussing this issue with the provinces, cites encouraging reductions in fatalities in Ireland after it introduced similar rules. As well, all Canadian provinces except Quebec already recognize in some way that .05 constitutes a concerning level of impairment. In Ontario, for instance, provincial rules provide for penalties such as immediate, short-term driving suspensions and vehicle impoundments if you’re caught driving in the .05 to .08 range. It’s not a criminal conviction, but it gets the driver off the road.


Now, Wilson-Raybould is exploring the idea of criminalizing driving with more than .05 per cent blood alcohol. For impaired drivers, that would mean mandatory fines, with jail sentences for a second offence.


Canada’s punishments for drunk driving are already among the toughest in the world. Not unrelated, perhaps, Canada’s rate of drunk-driving incidents is the lowest in 30 years.


So far, objections to the stiffer limit have come from the restaurant industry, which is concerned that tougher rules would hurt business. But the restaurateurs’ arguments are weak. Toughened blood alcohol rules would still allow an average man to have two drinks and a woman to have one, and be able to get behind the wheel of a vehicle legally. There is nothing to stop people from drinking more, of course, as long as they have made other arrangements to get home. That’s what sensible people already do; no big change there.


A more legitimate concern is the possibility that more impaired driving charges will clog our already overloaded courts: such charges already make up 10 per cent of the volume. A federal background paper suggests, however, that this, uh, bottlenecking, won’t happen, because police only have so many resources to devote to drinking and driving.


If that’s true, reason would suggest that those limited resources be deployed to tackle the cases with the greatest level of impairment: those in which the driver’s blood alcohol level is more than .08 per cent. What, then, would be the practical point of having newer, tougher rules?


Another issue lost in this discussion is impairment from cannabis. The federal government still hasn’t explained in detail how drug-impaired driving levels will be determined or measured. Perhaps it thinks new alcohol standards are the low-hanging fruit in what will be a much more complex impaired driving scenario if its recreational marijuana law passes in less than a year.


It can certainly be argued plausibly that tougher standards for drinking and driving will save lives. Turning down a potentially life-saving change because of cost is not a decision any politician wants to make. But pretending that new rules will truly make a difference without more enforcement and court time is a PR gesture. More sober planning is required.


 


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