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Province stiffens penalties for impaired drivers


As expected, the province of B.C. announced harsher penalties for impaired drivers on Tuesday, which they are calling the toughest in Canada.

"Despite increased enforcement and significant efforts to promote awareness, we've begun to see a rise in impaired driving across British Columbia," said Solicitor General Michael de Jong in a press release. "That trend is unacceptable and that's why we're bringing in these new laws: to get impaired drivers off the road with clear, swift and severe penalties."

The minister also announced a provincial goal of reducing alcohol-related driving fatalities by 35 per cent by the end of 2013, in memory of Alexa Middelaer, a four-year-old killed by an alleged drunk driver in Delta two years ago.

Under the new law any driver stopped with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 per cent will face an immediate 90-day driving ban and $500 fine. As well, their vehicle will be towed and impounded 30 days at their expense (for a cost of roughly $700) and further criminal charges may follow that result in a ban of a year.

Currently drivers who receive 90-day bans can still drive for up to three weeks before it comes into effect and there is no fine.

As well, there is a $250 charge to have your licence reinstated after a ban, up from the current rate of $100.

But the most noticeable change in the rules applies to so-called "tipsy drivers," who test between 0.05 and 0.08 per cent. Previously these people would receive 24-hour driving suspensions, plus towing charges. Now, anyone caught in that range will face a 72-hour driving ban and a $200 fine for a first offence; a seven-day ban and $300 fine for a second offence; and a 30-day ban and $400 fine for a third offence.

According to the province, research has shown that drivers in the 0.05 to 0.08 per cent range are seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than drivers with no alcohol in their systems.

There are also long-term consequences. Drivers in the "fail" range - over 0.08 per cent - and who are caught three times in five years in the "warn" range - 0.05 to 0.08 per cent - will be required to participate in the provincial Responsible Driver Program (a cost of $880) and install an ignition interlock device that requires a breath sample to start their car at their own expense (roughly $1,420) for a period of one year.

All those costs add up. A single sample over 0.08 per cent could result in costs of $3,750 before a driver is permitted to drive again, in addition to the driving ban. A driver who provides a sample between 0.05 and 0.08 per cent will likely faced costs of $600 for a first offence, increasing with the second and third offence.

The new legislation also benefits the police, who no longer have to bring drivers to the station for breathalyzer samples in order to impose a driving ban over 24 hours. Under the new law they can immediately revoke a licence and impound a vehicle for a third offence.

According to a backgrounder by the province a police officer spends roughly four days to support an impaired driving charged. With the new law the officer will spend far less time on paperwork and more time on the road.

Drivers who receive a prohibition are still allowed to request a review, but the cost has doubled from $100 to $200.

The new laws are expected to come into effect in the fall of 2010.