Quicker and stiffer penalties for first-time impaired drivers will make Alberta roads safer, says the head of MADD Canada.
Under Bill 21, the Provincial Administrative Penalties Act, first-time impaired drivers will not be charged with a criminal offence, but will face a new $1,000 fine, have their cars immediately impounded for a month, and not be allowed to drive for at least three months.
“It’s efficient. It’s quick. It happens roadside. At the end of the day, you’ve got more boots on the ground, and more enforcement, and more deterrent, and you haven’t spent a cent more. It’s a great use of police resources,” said Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada.
Serious impaired driving offences will still go through the justice system.
Similar rules have been in place in British Columbia for several years and have reduced the rate of impaired driving incidents by 36 per cent and the number of deaths by 54 per cent.
Murie said the number of impaired drivers in Alberta should plummet when people’s vehicles are impounded for 30 days instead of the current three days.
He said in B.C., word spread quickly when a friend lost their vehicle for a month.
“That’s the deterrence. You go home, and for the next 30 days, you have to figure out how your life is going to continue with no vehicle,” Murie said.
“It has that filtering effect. It goes out into the community, and that’s what changes behaviour. Now in British Columbia, when we do roadside survey tests, it’s almost impossible to find a driver in B.C. that’s positive over the provincial legal limit, because they don’t want that vehicle impounded.”
He said people drive impaired because they don’t think they’ll get caught, so deterrence is important, and losing their vehicle works, which also comes with a huge impound fee.
He said another reason why there are fewer repeat offenders is the focus on rehabilitation. Drivers are assessed for alcohol dependency.
“The programs in B.C., Manitoba, and now Alberta, focus on lowering recidivism. You don’t get tons of repeat offenders,” Murie said.
Red Deer RCMP Supt. Gerald Grobmeier said impaired driving is extremely dangerous and an issue Red Deer RCMP takes very seriously.
“Regardless of a criminal charge, serious risks still apply and could result in tragedy. Impaired drivers put everyone on the roadway, including themselves, at risk of serious injury or death,” Grobmeier in a statement.
“There is no excuse for drinking and driving when there are so many alternatives available, including calling a friend, taking a taxi or rideshare, or using public transit.
“I remind the public to call 9-1-1 anytime they witness or suspect an impaired driver.”
Drivers will be able to appeal decisions to SafeRoads AB, a new branch of adjudicators to be set up under Alberta Transportation, with the entire process scheduled to take no more than 30 days.
The changes will begin this fall, and SafeRoads AB would begin handing routine traffic tickets out some time in late 2021, diverting an estimated two million such offences from the courts.
— with files from The Canadian Press