Local drivers staying sober

Mounties in Penticton say new laws to get touch on drunk drivers appear to be working

Penticton RCMP Const. Darrell Miller with confiscated containers of alcohol and the roadside screening device which can wind up costing drinking drivers hundreds of dollars or more.

Penticton RCMP Const. Darrell Miller with confiscated containers of alcohol and the roadside screening device which can wind up costing drinking drivers hundreds of dollars or more.

Hitting motorists where it hurts appears to be reducing the number of accidents involving alcohol.

Now, after Monday’s decision by the B.C. Court of Appeal upholding the constitutionality of automatic penalties under the province’s drinking and driving law, the trend is expected to continue.

The appeals court ruled the automatic penalties, contrary to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association argument, does not violate the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

According to Cpl. Ted Manchulenko of the Penticton RCMP traffic section the decision was welcome news to the officers who see first hand the human carnage resulting from drinking and driving.

“And we will continue to actively participate with the issuance of roadside prohibitions to keep our communities and roadways safe,” he said Tuesday.

Manchulenko added the statistics for the past two years locally appear to reflect the provincial figures, especially in the reduction of overall incidents of the operation of motor vehicles involving alcohol use.

“In 2013 we had 197 alcohol-related contacts that resulted in actions such as roadside suspensions, accidents and impaired charges which is down 81 compared to the year before and that is very significant,” said Manchulenko. “Ultimately I think the penalties play huge into this. Fines add up very quickly and I think that message more than anything else is what has gotten out there in making people more aware that drinking and driving is just not worth it.

“I like to think that people are getting the message about the dangers about drinking or driving but even if the message is you’re going to be paying large amounts to get your licence back, either way it’s making a difference.

“That includes the number of death and injury accidents relating to alcohol.”

Locally there was one fatal accident involving alcohol in 2013 and none in 2012.  From Jan. 1, 2013 until this week there have been 17 alcohol-related accidents compared to 18 in 2012.

Manchulenko added while the difference in those numbers may not appear significant, just the fact there appears to be fewer drinking drivers on the road will mean a reduced potential for such accidents to happen.

“I mean let’s face it, even one fatal is too many but unfortunately some people are just not going to get it,” he said. “But the more people we can keep from getting behind the wheel or off the road immediately when they’ve been drinking, is only going to help.”

Stats from the Penticton detachment show 24-hour suspensions dropped to 18 in 2013 from 35 the year before, three-day suspensions were down to 40 from 53, seven-day suspensions were down from four to three and 90-day suspensions were down to 113 from 130.

When the law was first introduced in 2010, blowing a warn or a fail on a roadside screening device involved automatic penalties. They included a driving ban, seizure of the vehicle, and fines and fees for storage, towing, and getting a driver’s license returned.

In 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court found the law was unconstitutional because there was no way for drivers to properly challenge the test.

The immediate roadside prohibition program replaced most impaired driving charges with administrative penalties, including a three-day driving ban and a $200 administrative fee for those who blow between 0.05 and 0.08, if the officer believes the driver is impaired.

For those in the impaired range of 0.08 or higher, police can impose a 90-day driving ban, a $500 penalty and impound the vehicle for 30 days instead of laying a charge.

Towing and impounding a vehicle can result in a $700 bill, and a $1,400 mandatory responsible driver program may also be required before the driver’s licence is returned.

Government statistics indicate annual fatal alcohol-related crashes fell to 54 from the five-year average of 112 since 2010 when the new law took effect.

With files from Tom Fletcher /Black Press