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Province to review impaired driving laws

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B.C.'s tough new impaired driving laws are having an unintended consequence, according to Solicitor General Rich Coleman. His office has received numerous complaints from the food and beverage industry, with some businesses claiming a sales drop between 15 and 30 per cent.

Coleman said he would review the law in light of this new information, although he has not committed to changing the laws or penalties - now Canada's toughest - in any way.

However, he said he does see the need for a public education campaign about what the new laws mean - something a Whistler pub said was necessary from the start. Without information about what the 0.05 limit means, customers are spending less, forgoing alcohol with meals, or avoiding bars and restaurants entirely.

"I think it's a big education piece," Coleman told the CBC. "I think people don't understand they can still go in and have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and still be OK."

Coleman followed up with a letter explaining his decision to review the new laws, as well as to explain why the province went in the direction it did.

Under the new laws, Immediate Roadside Prohibitions (IRPs) go into effect for drivers who test in the "warn" range - 0.05 to 0.08 per cent on an approved roadside screening device. The penalty for a first offence is a three-day driving prohibition and impoundment, a $200 fine and a $225 fee for reinstating your licence. A first offence can cost $600 or higher, and three offences in a two-year period will result in a 30-day impoundment and other penalties reserved for drivers who fail the roadside test.

Previously, testing in the warn range would result in a 24-hour licence suspension and possibly the cost of a tow.

The penalties for drivers who fail the test are also more significant, with an immediate 90-day driving prohibition, 30-day vehicle impoundment, fines and other costs such as the mandatory installation of an in-vehicle breathalyzer and interlock device. A first offence can cost $4,000.

Bar and restaurant owners are in confusion over what 0.05 per cent blood alcohol content means in terms of consumption, and don't know what to tell customers. At the same time it's difficult to say whether one or more drinks is OK because there are a variety of factors that come into play such as gender, weight, how quickly the drink was consumed, whether a person has eaten or is on any medication, and so on.

Ian Tostenson, the president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA), says the decline in business caught everyone by surprise.

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