Despite increasingly punitive impaired driving laws, despite educational efforts starting in grade school to raise awareness of and deter the behavior, despite sophisticated efforts by non-profit organizations dedicated to “stopping this violent crime,” and advocating for and supporting victims and their families, impaired driving remains a leading cause of death in Canada – by some reports an average of almost four deaths per day.
It’s not working
In 2015, for example, in York Region (north of Toronto) three children and their grandfather were killed by an impaired driver in a crash ‘heard’ across the country, shattering for the local community. York Regional Police expected at least some reduction in impaired driving incidents. Instead, every year thereafter the number of charges they laid – presumably with similar enforcement efforts – increased: 1,100 in 2016, 1,200 in 2017 and 1,400 in 2018. A spokesperson was quoted as saying: What is it going to take? There is nobody in York Region who doesn’t know that drinking and driving is wrong, dangerous, illegal. And it’s not working.”
Impaired drivers go public
These statistics caught media attention when, in early December, York Regional Police announced they, along with some other Ontario police forces, were changing their policy of not releasing the names and ages of drivers criminally charged with impaired driving. Going forward, they will include the name of everyone they charge with an impaired driving offence on a publicly published list. The police hope this naming-and-shaming effort will make impaired driving even more socially unacceptable, and also enlist community help with keeping suspended drivers off the road. Furthermore, it will begin treating impaired drivers like others charged with serious criminal offences such as break-and-enter, fraud, and drug trafficking.
Changes in the Criminal Code of Canada
Another deterrence effort, this one Canada-wide, has also taken effect recently. Although overshadowed by the highly publicized changes in Canadian law regarding cannabis, effective December 18, alcohol impaired driving laws have also been changed in the Criminal Code of Canada to create new offences, make law enforcement easier, and increase the fines and minimum jail time penalties. Every driver needs to know about these important changes:
- Breath testing is now legally permitted of any driver lawfully stopped, whether or not the apprehending police officer has reasonable and probable grounds for believing the driver has consumed alcohol. (Reasonable and probable grounds was the former threshold requirement for a legal breathalyzer request.) This means that all drivers must now comply with a request for a roadside breathalyzer test. Refusing to do so is itself a serious offense regardless of zero level of alcohol consumption.
- The fine for refusing to take a roadside breathalyzer test has doubled —from $1,000 to $2,000. Refusing also results in a one-year driving prohibition, and a criminal conviction, even for a first-time offender.
- Simply and bluntly put, the new rules set higher fines for higher levels of impairment — the drunker you are, the higher the fine up to mandatory minimums of $2,000. Re-offending also involves longer jail times —a mandatory minimum of 120 days for third and subsequent offences.
This is only a summary of the changes. For more details visit the Canadian Department of Justice website.
Road Rules by Cedric Hughes