One year later: Police say tougher impaired-driving laws are having an effect

B.C.’s tougher impaired driving laws came into effect a year ago today, and most drivers seem to be getting the message.

Abbotsford restaurant owner Paul Esposito is among those upset with tougher impaired-driving laws

B.C.’s tougher impaired driving laws came into effect a year ago, and most drivers seem to be getting the message.

Const. Ian MacDonald of the Abbotsford Police said officers have noticed that more motorists stopped at roadblocks are referencing the new laws, saying they aren’t consuming alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

“They’re saying, ‘I’m not drinking because I don’t want to lose my car,’ “ he said.

And members of the restaurant industry say they have not recovered from the impact to their business when the stricter legislation came into effect.

“People are still going out, but they are drinking less. They may have a glass of wine, but that’s it,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

The Criminal Code still lists a .08 blood-alcohol level as the legal limit, with the province’s .05 limit serving as a “warning.”

But as of Sept. 20, 2010, blowing above the legal limit can result in an immediate 90-day driving ban and a $500 fine. Blowing a “warning” can result in an immediate three-day driving suspension and a $200 fine.

The website for the B.C. public safety and solicitor general states that there was a 51 per cent decrease in impaired driving-related fatalities from October 2010 to May 2011.

MacDonald said stats in Abbotsford have also gone down. He said so far this year, police have issued 215 immediate roadside prohibitions (IRPs) for drivers registering a fail or warning, while about another 300 24-hour suspensions were handed out.

During the same period in 2010, Abbotsford Police issued almost 800 24-hour suspensions.

MacDonald said officers have embraced the tougher legislation because it allows them to better “maintain safety on the roadways.”

Not everyone is as keen about the new laws.

Tostenson said the restaurant industry, which noticed an immediate decline in business when the legislation was introduced, has not recovered.

He estimates the industry has seen an average drop of 30 to 40 per cent in sales over the last year, as customers reduce their alcohol consumption or choose not to imbibe at all.

“I think, in general, (the restaurant industry) feels the new laws went too far and are penalizing people who aren’t the problem.”

Paul Esposito, owner of the Phoenix Lounge and Finnegan’s Pub and Grill in Abbotsford, has been one of the biggest opponents to the legislation, saying it has been “devastating” to the entire industry.

He estimates financial losses of 25 to 30 per cent in the last year.

“It’s a mess, a terrible mess.”

Esposito said the laws have punished the consumer who was always a responsible drinker, by causing them to now avoid alcohol altogether.

“Our cocktail hours no longer exist. The people who used to come in after work to blow off some steam at the end of the week … are pretty much gone.”

Esposito said he would like to see a government review of the legislation, but isn’t optimistic that will occur.

“It’s the law, so what are you going to do?”

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