Holiday impaired suspensions, charges up

Legal issues with B.C.'s new drinking and driving law didn't slow down police road checks and suspensions during the holiday season.

Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond speaks at Nov. 23 ceremony to mark one year of B.C.'s new impaired driving penalties. A week later

Legal issues with B.C.’s new drinking and driving law didn’t slow down police road checks and suspensions during the holiday season.

From Nov. 1 to Jan. 2, RCMP in the Lower Mainland imposed penalties on 399 drivers, compared to 310 in the same period of 2010. Those totals include impaired driving charges, 90-day vehicle impoundments and administrative licence suspensions.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson ruled Nov. 30 that parts of B.C.’s new roadside penalty system infringed on drivers’ constitutional right to defend themselves. But just before Christmas he suspended his ruling for six months, allowing police to resume applying their strictest roadside penalties, including 90-day licence suspensions and impounding vehicles for 30 days.

Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond has vowed to move quickly when the legislature resumes sitting in February, to amend the legislation passed last year that gave police in B.C. the toughest roadside impaired penalties in Canada.

RCMP Superintendent Norm Gaumont said some people may have been confused by the court ruling, believing that they could refuse to blow in a breathalyzer without facing a criminal code charge.

The judge upheld the use of the immediate three-day roadside prohibitions for drivers who blow in the “warn” range between 0.05 and 0.08, and found 90-day suspensions for refusing to give a breath sample area also permissible.

“We’re not backing off,” Gaumont said.

Bond said the first year of the new penalties is the reason for a 40 per cent decrease in alcohol-related deaths on B.C. roads.