Last week, 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 possibly 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.
This is for the better. The province estimates that at least 45 lives have been saved, as the number of alcohol-related deaths on the roads has fallen 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. Drivers so charged 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 a 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.
Stiff administrative penalties 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.
– Black Press