New impaired driving laws are coming into effect in Alberta this month, which means police officers will have more roadside powers over those driving under the influence.
Previously, a level of 0.08 or higher was required for a ticket, but now officers can issue a 90-day suspension for the same offence, which is then followed by a one-year ignition interlock program that requires drivers to pass an in-car breathalyzer test in order to start their vehicles. The new laws also introduce zero tolerance for cannabis use for learners or probationary license holders.
Transportation Minister Brian Mason is hoping the new laws will make Alberta roads safer, and that they will “reduce the incidence of serious injury and death as a result of impaired driving.”
In 2010, British Columbia largely decriminalized impaired driving, and some believe that the Alberta government is planning to move in the same direction in an effort to clear out Alberta’s court system.
“If you stop charging for things, it becomes a lot less expensive,” says Edmonton lawyer Shannon Gunn Emery. “You don’t need as many judges, not as many clerks, not as many Crown prosecutors, not as much court time…The officers who would normally spend two or three hours doing an impaired driving investigation now only have to spend 20 minutes for each one. And every one of those they’re going to have fines … and that’s just going to fill up the coffers, so it’s a win-win for the government.”
This doesn’t necessarily benefit drivers, as it gives officers discretion to investigate at roadside and “basically convict, for all intents and purposes, and sentence, right then and there,” Emery says. “You have all the stigma and all the negative consequences of a criminal conviction without any of the procedural protections that are in place that are there under the criminal code.”
Mason has said that decriminalization is not the focus of the new legislation, and that while clearing the court system is a worthwhile endeavour, it’s not happening at the expense of the decriminalization of cannabis and alcohol impaired driving.
“[Although the roadside suspension] doesn’t result in a criminal record,” he said, “[it] actually gets very high levels of compliance where it’s been implemented in other places.”
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