Central Albertans who are charged with drug-related impaired driving will see their licences suspended for at least three months under new Alberta rules coming Thursday.
The Alberta Administrative Licence Suspension (AALS) program under the provincial Traffic Safety Act will be expanded to include driving suspensions for those who may have been influenced by illegal or prescription drugs.
It already imposes driving suspensions or disqualifications on those charged with impaired driving involving alcohol.
The courts can issue suspensions and disqualifications for three or six months. In some cases, they are effective immediately or a 21-day temporary permit is issued first.
Cpl. Wayne Oakes, spokesman for RCMP K Division headquarters, said this legislation appears, at least on the surface, to be a “good initiative.”
“It should send a further message to motorists about the dangers and consequences of operating a motor vehicle while your ability is impaired by alcohol or a drug,” Oakes said.
“Legislation that is designed at making our roads safer is welcomed.”
The legislation is just one more step towards putting drugs at parity with alcohol.
In July 2008, the federal government passed Bill C-2, which included new rules involving testing for drug-related driving offences. With this law, police can demand a blood or urine test for someone they believe may be impaired by drugs. Before, police officers could only ask and as a result, the driver could refuse.
Mandatory testing for alcohol-related driving offences has been done for years by police. Drivers can be charged for refusing a breathalyzer.
Oakes said that testing includes anybody that may have overmedicated themselves.
“There are any number of prescription drugs, even real strong antihistamines, warn you not to operate a motor vehicle or heavy complicated equipment,” Oakes. “Those warnings are there for a reason.”
Police officers trained as “drug recognition experts” are the ones who obtain evidence from drivers and then determine which test to do.
Oakes said the testing of drug-related offences involves either taking blood or urine samples.
Blood samples are drawn by a medical practitioner, generally a doctor.
“In some cases too, the test may be influenced by the person you are dealing with,” he said. “Even in the case where a breath demand is read, if the person demands a blood sample taken over and above a breath sample, we have to comply with that.”
But even with stronger legislation concerning drug-related driving offences, there are still challenges.
Red Deer lawyer Lorne Goddard said it’s “very difficult” to determine if someone has been impaired by drugs.
“There’s a very subjective test as to whether somebody is impaired,” he said. “There’s always room for abuse.”