Penalties not limits change
By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The province’s next phase in its impaired driving legislation took effect Sept. 1, but there is still some confusion on what has changed. Under the new legislation police can issue stiffer penalties for drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) between .05 and .08.
Prior to the legislation, police had the authority to issue a 24-hour suspension if a driver blew .05, a situation that has existed in Alberta since 1999. Effective Sept. 1 those caught driving with a BAC between .05 and .08 will receive an immediate three-day licence suspension and a three-day vehicle seizure. Penalties increase with repeat offences.
The first phase of the legislation came into effect July 1 and involved tougher administrative penalties for drivers with BAC in excess of .08. The legislation for graduated licence drivers with any alcohol in their system also came into effect at that time.
Morinville Staff Sergeant Mac Richards said the new legislation will mean some additional paperwork for his officers because it involves the seizure of a vehicle. “As far as on the street we have just changed one piece of paper for another piece of paper,” he said. “It is not a lot of extra work on our behalf. For us it doesn’t change a whole lot of what we do day to day. What is to be seen is if this will change driving behaviour.”
It is the change in driving behaviour that Richards would like to see. Preliminary numbers from the province indicate 994 licence suspensions and 632 vehicle seizures were issued to drivers blowing over .08 were issued in the province between July 1 and Aug. 23. Another 114 licence suspensions and 73 vehicle seizures were issued to graduated licence drivers who had consumed alcohol, something the new legislation has zero tolerance for.
Richards said he hopes the changes in impaired driving legislation will result in fewer impaired Albertans getting behind the wheel; however, he realizes it is too soon to know for sure.
“We really want to see the change in driving behaviour and we don’t have to worry about the suspensions and that sort of thing and how it impacts their lives,” Richards said of those who will lose their licence and vehicles under the new penalties.”
The Staff Sergeant said while impaired driving seems to be down in Morinville this year, he has seen a lot over the summer in the community. “For some reason it is not hitting home,” he said of the message of mixing alcohol with motoring. “Both are fine. You just can’t mix the two.”
He believes people who have one drink with dinner really have nothing to worry about with the new administrative penalties that took effect over the weekend. “They can drive home after one drink. They’re not going to be at .05,” he said. “If that was your concern that at one drink you would be .05 you should have had the same concern prior to the legislation because you still would have lost your license. You are still committing – if you want to call it the offence – the same offence. They didn’t change the point at which you would lose your license. If you are concerned about it now, you should have been concerned about it beforehand.”
Richards said the safest way to avoid suspensions of any kind is to simply plan ahead if you are planning to be out and drinking. “Plan for your ride home before you go home,” he said. “It’s all about planning before you go.”
Beyond the immediate loss of licence and vehicle, the Staff Sergeant said people need to really look at the bigger picture of potential job loss, economic hardship or even jail time should the impaired driver kill someone. “It can have dire consequences,” he said.