Ian Marples, general counsel for Alcohol Countermeasure Systems, demonstrates how to use an ignition interlock system which is mandatory in BC for people convicted of drinking and driving.

A breath-screening system preventing drivers who’ve had a drink from starting a car should be mandatory for everyone convicted of drunk driving, an expert on substance abuse and traffic safety says.

Doug Beirness, a policy analyst with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, made the recommendation to the special legislative committee on traffic safety meeting in Saskatoon Monday.

The meeting was timely — six people died in vehicle-related incidents on the weekend, including 23-year-old conservation officer Justin Knackstedt, who was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver.

Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces that doesn’t require convicted drunk drivers’ vehicles to be fitted with interlock systems, which disable the ignition if the driver fails a breath screening for alcohol.

Only seven per cent of offenders convicted of drunk driving in Saskatchewan receive an interlock system, Beirness said.

While he acknowledged the policy wouldn’t eliminate drunk driving on its own, he did note that one in three first time offenders will drink and drive again.

“What you’ve done is you’ve put a barrier between the drinker and the vehicle,” he said.

“You’re looking at a host of things. But certainly the interlock program is proven effective and it’s relatively easy to do.”

Because it’s an offender-pay system, it wouldn’t be a cost to the government.

But an interlock system, lasting at least 12 months, must also be paired with a comprehensive rehabilitation program that would help the offender understand their drinking, Beirness said.

For example, some people complain their interlock system won’t let them drive on a Saturday morning, not realizing they have alcohol in their system from the night before.

“You can’t expect (the interlock) to be effective if it’s not there. You really can’t. So what you have to do is, during that interlock period you’ve got the perfect opportunity to intervene with that person and their drinking behaviour, get them into some kind of rehabilitation problem to work on their drinking.”

His other recommendations included: strengthening administrative sanctions, enhancing high visibility enforcement, reviewing the current system of screening and rehab, and ensuring all high-blood alcohol content offenders complete rehab.

Committee chair Darryl Hickie, Sask. Party MLA for Prince Albert-Carlton, said Beirness had “really good, valid” recommendations and the committee would consider them.

As for a mandatory interlock policy, “I think we’re going to see something along those lines,” he said.

But there’s a broader culture that has to be changed as well, he said.

“If we have mandatory interlocks we still have a problem though — people have availability to multiple cars in a family dynamic, and friends’ vehicles.”

He pointed to British Columbia, where impaired drivers face around $4,000 in fines to get back on the road.

“Money hurts people, it does. We know that, so it’s one of things you want to take into consideration moving forward,” Hickie said.

The committee will table a report with recommendations to the legislature by the fall.

Source:  The Star Phoenix


Last updated on: 2013-06-05 | Link to this post