Impaired driving penalties overruled

Staff Sgt. Brian Coldwell talks about the ruling on touch impaired driving laws

Changes are pending to some tougher impaired driving penalties established in British Columbia a year ago, after they recently came under the scrutiny of a British Columbia Supreme Court justice.

Justice Jon Sigurdson ruled the penalties for a failed Breathalyzer test reading (over .08) and an immediate roadside prohibition (IRP) for the driver were unconstitutional.

The IRP laws for those who blow a reading in the warn range of .05-.08 will remain the same; however, as Sigurdson deemed those were “validly enacted provincial legislation.”

His ruling followed in the wake of several challenges of the provincial IRP legislation, during which people argued their right to be “innocence until proven guilty” were infringed by the resulting 90-day suspension, 30-day vehicle impoundment and costly fines and fees.

The appeal process for drivers was ruled to be inadequate, as penalties are enacted without the ability for impaired driving charges to be disputed in court.

100 Mile House RCMP Staff/Sgt. Brian Coldwell says his detachment has received instruction not to proceed with the IRP process for those who blow a blood-alcohol reading higher than .08.

“We will not be using the IRP for the fail, but we will be referring to the Criminal Code process to deal with impaired drivers who blow a fail.”

This mandatory Criminal Code investigation means any resulting licence suspensions or vehicle impoundment can’t take effect until 21-days after the offence, to give drivers time to appeal the administrative driving prohibition.

It also takes up more of a police officer’s time to investigate offences they may previously have opted to pursue under the IRP, Coldwell says, adding it will take resources away from the roads.

“The Criminal Code investigation could tie up a member for three to four hours, whereas the IRP process, because there’s no need to bring the person back to the office, can be done in half an hour.”

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says no one is trying to impede business, which is what “a lot of the noise was about.”

“All that anybody is trying to do is to save lives. If people don’t drink and drive, they don’t have to worry about any of this.”

The issue has gone through the courts, she notes, and will now go for changes in the government’s legal department, as it did a year ago.

“We have to abide by the law and what the judge says. I respect the decision [Sigurdson] made.”

Meanwhile, Coldwell notes the penalties are not actually lessened, but rather they’re just delayed.

“We have always treated impaired driving seriously and the Criminal Code is an effective tool to deal with impaired drivers.”

The number of alcohol-related traffic deaths since the provincial legislation was imposed dropped 40 per cent in the 12 months previous to Sept. 30, 2011, from the same period last year.

“I think the ‘stats’ really speak for themselves…. Obviously, you can’t refute the numbers; it’s working.”

Coldwell adds the public comments he has received indicate the IRP has been a “very drastic” improvement and an effective piece of legislation.

Attorney General Shirley Bond cautions the public to be aware that the current IRP (three- to 30-day) licence suspensions and potential vehicle impoundment for warn readings are still in place, as well as associated fees and penalties.