No legislating for common sense
Tougher drinking and driving legislation came into effect this summer, with more regulations in place this Sept. 1 – with some, including the Wildrose party and people in the hospitality industry, criticizing the changes.
Among the new rules is the fact that drivers caught with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 but less than the Criminal Code limit of .08 will have their licences suspended and their vehicles impounded for three days. Second and subsequent offences face stiffer penalties, including longer licence suspensions and vehicle impounding, and courses on the dangers of drinking and driving.
Drivers with BACs over .08 have their vehicles seized for three days on the first offence and for a week for every offence after that. They also have to take courses on the dangers of drinking and driving and, if the arrests continue, a weekend course on how alcohol is impacting their lives.
In a letter written and sent to Albertan newspapers, local Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw describes stiffer penalties for drivers who blow below the legal limit – between .05 and .08 – as “an attack on law-abiding motorists and a distraction from the real problems, drivers over and above the legal limit.” It’s hard to argue with having tougher penalties for people blowing over the limit, but Saskiw makes a valid point about stiffer penalties for those with lower BACs. That said, according to a 2008 report prepared for Transport Canada, two per cent of fatal vehicle accidents were found to be caused by drivers with blood alcohol concentrations of .05 to .08 – it’s a number dwarfed by the 33 per cent of fatalities caused by people with BACs above .08, but still a number that suggests even a relatively small amount of alcohol may potentially make for a more dangerous driver.
The probable result of the new legislation is that it will stop your cautious person who might have had one drink with a meal at a restaurant from driving home, the person who doesn’t pose too much danger. It is questionable on whether the new legislation will have much effect on the more reckless person who is willing to drive home after downing several drinks at a raucous house party. In that case, the move could hurt the hospitality business, with people staying home for dinner and drinks rather than take the chance of blowing over the limit, without having much effect on curbing truly dangerous behaviour.
The move is not without its supporters, including groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). According to one widely reported statistic, after British Columbia introduced similar legislation in 2010, the province saw a 44 per cent drop in the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths. However, anyone who has taken a single class in statistics can tell you that correlation doesn’t equal causation. It’s impossible to prove that legislation is responsible for the drop in deaths – after all, the number of alcohol-related crashes in Alberta fell by 24 per cent between 2007 and 2010, even before Alberta’s new legislation was put into place.
That said, if the trend of falling alcohol-related crashes and deaths continues in the wake of this legislation, it’ll be harder for people to criticize the new rules. Still, it’s a pity the government feels the need to try and legislate for common sense – after so many efforts on education, people should know to pass on the keys if they have had too much to drink or if they feel in any way not 100 per cent safe to drive. Sadly, things have never been that simple.
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