Home / Drunk driving laws tough and effective, but are they fair?

Drunk driving laws tough and effective, but are they fair?

By abbotsfordtimes.com
Published July 11, 2013

There was a huge outcry when B.C.’s tough new drinking and driving laws came into effect nearly three years ago, but the results seem clear: the new laws are saving lives.

According to a study completed last month by Scott Macdonald, assistant director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addiction Research, there’s been a 42 per cent reduction in alcohol-related fatal crashes since the new laws came into effect in September 2010.

Macdonald and his team took into account that drinking and driving collisions have been dropping for three decades in North America, due to education, graduated licensing and other changes.

But over and above that drop, they say, the new laws have prevented an estimated 44 fatal collisions per year.

Macdonald credits the success of the new laws partly to the fact that they save police time. Instead of taking three hours to process one person through the Criminal Code, he told the Globe and Mail, an officer can now give an immediate sanction to a driver who blows over the legal limit, then get back on the road and look for more drinking drivers.

But the new laws have their detractors. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, for example, is an intervener in a case called Chisholm et al. vs. Superintendent of Motor Vehicles – brought by a number of people challenging the tougher regulations.

The BCCLA believes the laws are unjust because the only evidence of impairment is the result of the roadside screening device, which it says is not as reliable as a Breatha-lyzer, and yields results that would not stand up in court. The group also says the laws are unjust because they impose severe penalties without a criminal conviction.

The presumption of being innocent until proven guilty is the cornerstone of our legal system, yet getting drunk drivers off the road saves lives.

How do we balance these competing interests? It seems the get-tough camp has already won, since it’s impossible to argue with a grieving parent holding a photo of a child who was killed by a drinking driver.