Wider net for drunk drivers cast

A new impaired driving law targeting a wider range of Alberta drivers is being lauded by the Crown prosecutor’s office and Red Deer city RCMP.

A new impaired driving law targeting a wider range of Alberta drivers is being lauded by the Crown prosecutor’s office and Red Deer city RCMP.

But a Red Deer criminal lawyer expects the new law will be challenged.

On Saturday, tougher penalties were implemented for drivers who have blood alcohol levels of .05 to .08. Police have the ability to issue a three-day licence suspension and a three-day vehicle seizure on first offence.

The penalties increase with additional offences.

Chief Crown prosecutor Anders Quist said he believes the law is just because it curbs people from taking the chance to drink and drive.

Someone with a blood alcohol level of .05 to .08 used to get a driving suspension for 24 hours, but now it’s three days with that first violation.

“They used to get a bit of a warning and now they’re getting a more serious warning,” said Quist.

“Hopefully, that will prevent them from getting cocky and pushing it further.”

More vehicles will likely be towed and impounded as a result of the new impaired driving law.

Sgt. Bob Bell from the traffic unit at Red Deer city RCMP said the new law that includes targeting .05 drivers will reduce collisions and calls for emergency medical responders to attend those crashes.

“There’s going to be less patients being taken into the (emergency ward at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre),” said Bell.

He added that police will have to spend less time in court, which will free them up to do other calls. Bell recently spent three hours in court dealing with an impaired driving case.

Police were expected to crack down on impaired driving through the Labour Day weekend.

Some people may be going out for a drink and are now worrying about whether they will come at the .05 level.

“I would think that people watched what they had to drink before,” Bell said. “The law shouldn’t have really changed their habits… but hopefully it will make people more accountable or responsible for their actions.”

Jenna Falk, food and beverage manager for Cities Gastro Pub in Sylvan Lake, said that it didn’t appear people had changed their drinking habits as of Saturday, when the new .05-.08 legislation kicked in.

“{It surprised me} a little bit because I would think that people would be more aware of what they are drinking and the laws that are out there,” Falk said on Sunday.

Keith Stebner, owner of Ponoka First Call Towing, expects that more impounding will occur with three-day vehicle seizures, but he’s not sure what else will happen.

“I have absolutely no control over it,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the guys in the yellow stripes (police officers) do.”

The new law also set new penalties on July 1 for drivers with blood alcohol levels of .08. On a first charge, drivers will see their licence suspended until their criminal charge is resolved, plus their vehicle is seized for three days, and they must take a “Planning Ahead” course.

As of July 1, any driver with a graduated licence will face an immediate 30-day licence suspension and seven-day vehicle suspension as a result of having any alcohol in their system.

Red Deer defence lawyer Kevin Sproule said he believes some aspects of the impaired driving law “are unfair and possibly unconstitutional.”

Sproule said the most troubling part of this new impaired driving law involves the automatic driving suspension for drivers charged with .08.

“If you can expect to get a trial date in six to eight weeks, that would be one thing,” said Sproule on Friday. “Unfortunately, in most jurisdictions, you are looking of delays of nine months to a year before you get your trial.”

Quist said that drivers may want to get rid of their matter sooner, which should lead to fewer adjournments of trials and more guilty pleas probably.

“But we won’t know until we get there,” said Quist.

Drivers charged with .08 could appeal in the past to the Alberta Transportation Safety Board when given an automatic three-month driving suspension.

Sproule isn’t sure if the board will change its thinking now that drivers are given a sustained licence suspension.

The government’s decision to give penalties to drivers between .05 and .08 is another contentious item, he said.

“Does the Crown have the constitutional authority to delve into what arguably can be viewed as criminal matters?,” said Sproule. “But I would think there’s a stronger likelihood that it’s going to be upheld, versus the one where your licence is suspended until you get to trial. That one seems problematic.”

Sproule said that some drivers will feel the pressure to plead guilty because their licences are suspended until they get to trial.

The Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association out of Edmonton, and other criminal trial lawyers, are working together to challenge these amendments, said Sproule.


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