The Alberta government wants to crack down on drinking and driving and is planning to introduce new legislation later this fall to strengthen enforcement.
One of the ideas being floated is adding sanctions for drivers who have a Blood-Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of between 0.05 and the legal level of 0.08 BAC. Other ideas include the escalation of penalties for repeat offenses and additional administrative penalties for drivers who are charged criminally. Other provinces have made similar efforts. British Columbia has made similar changes to the law, and it is said fatalities involving drunk driving have been reduced by half.
“It is for government to introduce legislation that reflects the values of the community that elected it,” said Premier Alison Redford in the Calgary Herald. “And I can tell you, I’m very confident that this is something Albertans care about and want to see the government act on.”
Corporal Kevin Charles of the RCMP has worked in Manitoba, where there are penalties for drivers who have a 0.05 BAC. He said it is another tool for law enforcement.
“Our opinion of it is ‘hey, great.’ Ideally if anyone has been drinking you shouldn’t see them on the roads at all,” said Charles. You shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a vehicle if you've anything to drink, it is just not worth it.”
While society’s opinion of drinking and driving has changed throughout the years, and more and more people make responsible decisions, Charles says there are still a few out there who take the risk.
“Most people get the message, but there are still those ones who believe ‘nothing is going to happen to me’ and they continue to drink and drive. Hopefully, if these laws come into place it will be some incentive and motivation for these people to make them think twice,” he said.
There have been fears expressed by people that the new law will make a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer after work illegal.
“One glass of wine is not going to put your blood alcohol content over .05,” said Charles. “It is not saying you cannot go out to dinner and have a drink. If you go out and have a few drinks, more than one or two with your friends, you need to be cognizant that your blood alcohol content could be up to that level and it could be illegal,” said Charles.
“Let’s face it, if this new law only affects a certain percentage of the population and changes their mind, it shouldn’t be seen as a penalization. To me it is a way of preventing a death or a serious injury to someone.”
Chris Pappas recently got out of the restaurant business in British Columbia and said the changes in that province had a chilling effect on diners.
“I think it is a garbage law,” said Pappas. “That will destroy every business, and stop every person who would like to go out with his wife and have a drink, nevermind two.”
Pappas recently sold his restaurant in Creston, B.C. after two years. He said when the law came in, he saw a 15 per cent drop in business.
“Even a friend I had who used to come to have a drink, I never saw him anymore,” said Pappas. “I had one customer who had two Caesars at lunch time, she lost her car and was charged $3,500.”
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association is concerned about the changes the possible new laws could have on the industry. According to its website, the survey of licensed B.C. members indicated 88 per cent experienced an average decline in liquor sales of 21 per cent after the new laws were put in place. They encourage their Alberta members to lobby their MLAs.
Any change in the law will be to provincial statute such as the Traffic Safety Act. Currently, Alberta Sheriff Highway Patrol is able to enforce the act, which includes issuing licence suspensions in cases of suspected impaired driving. They are not able to lay criminal charges.
“Typically a sheriff would touch base or get in contact with an RCMP member and make arrangements for them to do the Breathalyzer test,” said Dan Laville, communications director for the Solicitor General.
He said the legislation may be introduced as soon as next week and indicates that it may give Alberta sheriffs more tools, but it is too soon to tell and many details need to be hammered out.
“At this point we are working on the details of the legislation and how it will roll out. We will be looking at all that stuff and seeing how we move forward,” said Laville.
Corporal Charles says the biggest change will come in people’s behaviour.
“Look at the distracted driving law, we are a few months into it, people are not complaining, they understand now why it has been implemented, and their behaviour has been changed. They are being safer, and I’d like to think they are getting the message,” said Charles.