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Stiff penalties for stiff drinks in B.C.



Like many other B.C. residents, I was closely following last week's news that the provincial government is introducing strict new impaired driving laws that will make this province the worst place to get busted for driving drunk.

Under the new rules, which are set to come into effect this fall, drivers caught in the "warning" range (between 0.05 and 0.08 per cent blood alcohol content) once during a five-year period will face an immediate three-day driving ban and a $200 fine. On a second infraction, they are looking at a seven-day ban and $300 fine, and the third time is a charm, so to speak, carrying a 30-day ban and $400 fine.

According to figures from a CBC story, anyone who blows over 0.08 will face a $500 administrative penalty, $250 licence reinstatement fee, $700 bill for towing and vehicle impoundment, $1,420 bill for one year's use of an ignition interlock device once they start driving again, and must participate in an $800 driving program. The total new price tag for getting caught drinking and driving? At least $3,670.

They may also face criminal charges, plus additional fees and fines for drivers who blow once in the fail range or three times in the warn range.

Now, I'm not pro-drunk driving (I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue that case) and I certainly do hope that these new laws actually help to get dangerous drivers off the road and save lives. But the changes also raise a few red flags and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has waded into the issue, pointing out that these tough new reforms might actually be unconstitutional, skipping the court process entirely and slapping drivers with fines, suspensions and vehicle impoundments without an opportunity to plead their case to a judge. In fact, drivers who have their licences suspended can't return to the road while they appeal their penalties and even if their appeal (a 21-day process) is successful, perhaps because a blood-alcohol reader malfunctioned or the officer made a mistake, the driver would have been penalized without cause.

But the issue that seems to be concerning people most is this new "warning" category. As ICBC's website points out: "You probably know that blowing .08 in a Breathalyzer is considered being legally impaired. But do you really know how many beers that is? Glasses of wine? Or cocktails?"

The answer is, quite simply, that we don't. B.C.'s bars and restaurants aren't equipped with breathalyzers, so people are left with approximate guidelines - coupled with the knowledge of their own limits - to know when they're "over the limit." It's a dangerous guessing game, one that can only be avoided by abstaining from alcohol altogether when driving.

So, how do local restaurants feel about these new laws?

Chris Quinlan, president of the Restaurant Association of Whistler, seems to feel that the changes are actually a step in the right direction. While the stricter laws may have a slightly negative impact on alcohol sales at first, Quinlan points out that it in the end, they will probably have a positive impact on the food and beverage industry, helping to ensure they aren't held liable for a patron's actions.

"In our perfect world, for our liability and our risk, it's actually better, because the more deterrent there is out there to keep people from going drinking and driving, the better it is for us. The less likelihood there is of somebody going out and getting in an accident after they've had too much to drink in one of our establishments and suing us."

Quinlan said he hasn't heard any concerns over the new laws from local restaurants, which makes sense: Whistler's pedestrian village and tourism-driven industry means that many patrons are in town on holiday and aren't driving, thus, the new laws aren't a consideration for them. But there are plenty of workers who live in Pemberton and Squamish, but work in Whistler, and like to go for dinner (and perhaps even a glass of wine) after work. Will they still stick around to dine in Whistler?

Quinlan believes that, for most people, having one glass of wine or drink with a meal shouldn't bump them into the new "warning" category.

"Once again, it's 'plan what you're going to do,' and if you end up getting in a situation where instead of having one glass of wine with your dinner over the course of your dinner you have two, or six, leave your car. Take a bus. Take a cab."



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