My colleague Matt Gurney argues that creating a legal grey area between federal and provincial laws relating to drunk driving helps no one, and it’s better to have a lower overall limit than two conflicting ones. But lowering the legal limit to .05 is only going to distract police from going after the people who are actually making our roads less safe: dangerous drivers. By lowering the legal limit, we end up punishing motorists who are not driving dangerously, while diverting resources away from catching those who are.

The U.S. embarked on a similar push to reduce the legal limit from .10 to .08 in the 1990s and the results were less than stellar. A 1995 study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found 21 of the 30 states that had adopted the new rule experienced no improvement, or had less safe roads than the rest of the country.

In 2000, the federal government mandated that all states adopt the new standard. In the four years following this change, alcohol-related fatalities actually increased. Part of the reason was that drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) between .08 and .10 are generally not the ones swerving all over the road, so police set up checkpoints in order to catch them. This took officers off patrol.

According to Transport Canada’s own data, a person over 19 years of age with a BAC of .015 is statistically just as likely to get into an accident as someone with a blood alcohol level of .099. A majority (80%) of all alcohol-related crashes causing death are caused by drivers with a BAC over .08, while only 5% involve drivers in the grey area between .05 and .08.

And it’s not like we’ve done a bad job of curbing rates of drinking and driving over the past 25 years. According to Statistics Canada, crime rates per 100,000 people involving impaired driving dropped by 55% between 1986 and 2009. Rates of traffic fatalities involving alcohol also decreased in that period of time.

The B.C. government says drunk driving deaths have decreased by 40% in the year since its tough new law took effect. If this is true, then it’s pretty impressive, but the government has not provided exact statistics and it remains to be seen whether the numbers hold over a more statistically significant period of time.

What is clear is that thousands of British Columbians (7,965 to be exact) — who may have had a couple glasses of wine with their meal or a few beers after work — were subject to having their vehicles impounded, licenses suspended and having to pay fines for blowing below the legal limit. And all the resources police devoted to catching these people, were diverted from finding those who are getting hammered and driving dangerously.

Dangerous drivers are the people police should be trying to take off the roads, but they are not going to do so by subjecting massive amounts of people to invasive roadside tests, or increasing the penalty for driving under the influence. (People are already making the irrational decision to risk dying in a fiery car crash; a mandatory minimum sentence is not going to alter their calculation.)

If politicians want to continue to make our roads safer, they should be looking for innovative public policy solutions to the problem. Let’s start by making it easier for people to get home at the end of the night, by getting rid of the arbitrary cap cities put on the number of taxis, which increases prices and decreases supply; and by extending the hours of public transit systems in our cities to get people home when the bars close.

Related story:  Looking for a little consistence in our drunk driving laws

Source: Jesse Kline National Post


Last updated on: 2013-02-10 | Link to this post