Challenges to B.C.'s impaired-driving laws shouldn't be seen as a sign that the laws are failing, but as part of a process to improve and refine the regulations.

The B.C. Supreme Court recently threw out a roadside suspension issued to a woman who contested the suspension on the grounds she wasn't allowed a proper second breathalyzer test. The woman had blown a fail on the first reading, but the device didn't register a reading on the second attempt.

The instrument's instruction manual states that a reading cannot be obtained if the device's temperature is above 40 C or below 10 C. Its temperature at the time was 9 C. The officer issued a roadside ban anyway. The woman challenged the ban, which was upheld by an adjudicator who pointed to a government report that said that although a screening device might be inaccurate when operated outside its temperature range, a test could still be completed. The Supreme Court quashed the ban, saying the government report was inadmissible evidence. Furthermore, said the court, the adjudicator failed to consider the breathalyzer's instruction manual in upholding the suspension.

There was nothing wrong with the law in this case - the problem was in how it was enforced. The Supreme Court decision should help ensure procedures will be properly and fairly followed in the future.

Since being introduced in 2010, B.C.'s tough drinking-and-driving laws have been subjected to challenges, some of which have resulted in changes. One of those amendments, introduced in 2012, requires police to tell drivers they have a right to a second breathalyzer test, with the lower of the two readings prevailing, the basis of the challenge to the woman's suspension.

Other provinces also have immediate consequences for drivers with blood-alcohol levels of higher than .05 per cent, which is below the Criminal Code threshold of .08 per cent. The Criminal Code carries more severe penalties for impaired driving, but with a lower probability of punishment. B.C.'s system is less time-consuming and requires less paperwork than pursuing a criminal conviction.

And it saves lives, according to a University of Victoria study. Released in June, the study indicates that the controversial laws reduced the number of deaths from alcohol-related crashes by more than 40 per cent in the two years after they were implemented.

Critics say that the laws contravene the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven in court and that the regulations violate other civil liberties.

The laws give police the power to issue impaired drivers driving suspensions ranging from three days to 90 days, depending on how much they have drunk. Vehicles can be impounded for up to a month and drivers can be fined up to $500.

The B.C. Supreme Court upheld the legislation in November 2011, but ruled parts of the law infringed the Charter of Rights, resulting in amendments.

The laws have changed behaviour - faced with the possibility of instantly losing driving privileges, many British Columbians have become more circumspect about drinking-and-driving.

Tough though they may be, laws must be fair and conform to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Challenges are one way to ensure that happens.

Those who challenge legislation such as drinking-and-driving laws are not attacking the system, but making it stronger.



Last updated on: 2013-08-26 | Link to this post