Province should review more roadside driving bans: NDP

Justice Minister sees no problem after court overturns suspension

RCMP officer performs a roadside check for drivers who may have consumed alcohol.

The NDP’s justice critic is urging the province to overhaul its process for reviewing roadside driving bans imposed on drinking drivers in light of a recent court ruling.

Leonard Krog said the government should proactively offer to re-review other cases if the procedure for weighing challenges turns out to have been incorrect.

The B.C. Supreme Court this month quashed one roadside driving ban that had been upheld in the review process, deciding a report setting out guidelines for use of alcohol screening devices was inadmissible.

Defence lawyers say the ruling could be grounds for many more roadside prohibitions to be appealed.

Krog said the government must be scrupulously fair in how it handles challenges of the penalties, because they take effect immediately and are dispensed at the roadside by police, not a judge.

“In our zeal to get drunk drivers off the road, which is something we all share, it doesn’t mean you get to disregard the rights of citizens to fairness in the hearing process,” he said.

“It clearly opens up the possibility of many other people asking for judicial reviews.”

Government lawyers are still reviewing the implications of the overturned decision.

But Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the ruling appears to be largely procedural and unlikely to threaten the three-year-old legislation underpinning the Immediate Roadside Prohibitions.

“When you have a new program, you can expect that people are going to take runs at it,” she said. “But fundamentally, the legislation remains very sound.”

Anton said about 1,500 roadside prohibitions are issued each month and just two per cent on average are successfully challenged.

Alcohol-related fatalities have plunged 51 per cent since the expanded system of suspensions kicked in nearly three years ago – replacing criminal prosecutions of many impaired drivers – and the government estimates 143 lives have been saved.

Anton said the regulations continue to have a powerful effect deterring people from drinking and then driving.

“People understand the immediate serious consequences that flow from that.”

Drivers who get an Immediate Roadside Prohibition can lose their driving privileges for up to 90 days, have their vehicle impounded and face hefty fines as well as costly installation of an ignition interlock device in their vehicle.

Documents recently disclosed under Freedom of Information show drivers who challenge their rulings to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles aren’t told if the screening device used to test them was later found to be inaccurate.

They’re merely told their driving prohibition was deemed invalid, without provision of specific reasons, usually weeks after the vehicle was impounded and the licence suspended.

The province pays towing and storage bills of appellants who are successful.

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