Traffic police will have an easier time testing suspected impaired drivers thanks to a new lightweight and faster handheld device that tests for blood alcohol levels.
Starting on the same day as the harsher penalties for drunk drivers in the province kick in, police across the province will be armed with the Alco-Sensor FST, a smaller and simpler breathalyzer test device.
Cpl. Slavica Doktor of the Red Deer city traffic services said the new instruments are much faster that the old devices, giving a digital reading within seconds.
When turned on, the LCD will light up and check the mouthpiece, check the ambient air around it to ensure it is not detecting any alcohol and continue with the test.
Doktor said the older devices will be phased out. They can be used under the Criminal Code but the new devices must be used for the new provincial legislation.
For four days this week, 250 police officers from across Central Alberta were trained on the new device and another 150 were trained on the calibration of the device.
Starting on Sunday, drivers with blood alcohol of more than .08 will face an immediate licence suspension that is in force until the criminal charge is resolved.
“Up until now, the most harsh provincial thing we could do was suspend your licence for 24 hours and seize your vehicle for 24 hours,” said Doktor.
“There was no deterrent because you could get a 24-hour suspension every weekend. It would show up on your driving abstract but that was it. Now it will be actually tracked.”
A first charge will net the driver a sustained licence suspension and three-day vehicle seizure. They must also take a Planning Ahead course.
For a second and third charge, offenders will have their licence suspended and have their vehicle seized for seven days.
On Sept. 1, the second phase of the new legislation will be implemented. Drivers with a blood alcohol of .05 to .08 will face an immediate three-day licence suspension and three-day vehicle seizure.
A second-time offender will receive an immediate 15-day licence suspension and seven-day vehicle seizure.
A third-time offender will face an immediate 30-day licence suspension and seven-day vehicle seizure.
Offenders are also required to take an impact course for all charges.