Stricter impaired driving penalties will save lives: MADD president

Slapping suspected impaired drivers with tougher roadside penalties would go a long ways towards preventing more family tragedies, says a representative for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Slapping suspected impaired drivers with tougher roadside penalties would go a long ways towards preventing more family tragedies, says a representative for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

While some restaurants in Alberta are worried about the possibility of the provincial government introducing penalties for those with a blood alcohol limit as low as 0.05, Aleta Neville thinks it’s a measure that should be introduced.

The president of the Red Deer chapter of MADD said that similar measures have been introduced in nearly every jurisdiction in Canada. And some countries within the European Union, plus New Zealand and Australia, have much stricter laws, Neville said.

“The hospitality and alcohol industries are alive and well,” Neville said.

Neville said that restaurants may face an adjustment period as consumers learn about any new laws.

“Some people think this would have an impact on social drinkers,” said Neville. “This law does not interference with what most Canadians believe is social drinking. Someone having a beer after work or a glass of wine at dinner will not be impacted by these administrative sanctions.”

After recently meeting with B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Alberta Premier Alison Redford said she’s considering invoking administrative roadside licence suspensions like those found on the West Coast.

Driving with a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08 is an offence under the federal Criminal Code, but last year B.C. introduced severe penalties for anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.05 and 0.08. A first-time offence earns a three-day driving prohibition and a $200 fine. Police can also order the vehicle towed and impounded, with the driver forced to pay the associated fees.

Penalties and driving suspensions escalate from there, depending on how many times the driver has been pulled over.

Since being introduced in September 2010, these stricter penalties in B.C. have cut drinking and driving deaths by 51 per cent over an eight-month period.

Alberta’s solicitor general is looking into bringing in new laws, but no word when that will happen or exactly what they will look like.

Currently, Albertans can face an automatic 24-hour driving suspension if they are suspected of drinking. Any longer suspension requires an alcohol-related offence under the Criminal Code.

Restaurateurs and bar owners will be keeping a watchful eye.

“I’m in favour of getting tougher, but I’m just not sure about the .05,” said Mark Reierson, one of the managers at Pete’s at the Beach in Sylvan Lake.

Kildy Li, who runs several bars in Red Deer including Cowboys, said the biggest challenge for him is having enough taxis so that people can get home safely. But he did wonder what kind of impact these possible changes would have on people who are just going out for drinks and dinner.

“I think it would impact the restaurants far more than the nightclubs,” said Li.

Conchita Campon, manager of the Ranch House restaurant on Red Deer’s north end, isn’t worried about any potential impact to her business.

“People come here to eat and not to drink,” she said. “It’s not a drinking place.”

Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association conducted a survey in March of licensed B.C. members. A total of 88 per cent experienced an average decline in liquor sales of 21 per cent due to the tougher penalties.

But the B.C.’s 50 per cent cutback in fatalities has resulted in 37 fewer deaths, Neville said.

“Even one life in one family spared is worth the change,” said Neville, whose son was killed by a drunk driver five years ago.

She highlighted the one-year anniversary of Nicolas Baier’s death on Oct. 29, 2010. The 18-year-old college student was killed when a driver ran into a crowd outside the Texas Mickey bar in Olds.

Jeffrey Leinen, 25, of Calgary, will head to a Court of Queen’s Bench jury trial on Nov. 28. The trial is expected to last in Calgary until about Dec. 21. He has been charged with second degree murder, dangerous operation causing death, impaired driving causing death, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, and impaired driving causing bodily harm.

– copyright Red Deer Advocate