COLUMN: Road checks save lives

Some consequences of impaired driving are just easier to get your head around than others.

Some consequences of impaired driving are just easier to get your head around than others.

Death, for example, is fairly black and white. Annually in B.C. 86 people are killed in accidents involving impaired driving, and 29 of those deaths  – on average – occur in the Southern Interior.

Strangely, when people think or talk about impaired driving they hardly ever address the worst case scenario. When friends leave a bar, merrily jingling their keys, no one says: “Hey buddy maybe you shouldn’t drive, you might die horribly in a car crash.” If anyone has the courage (and few do) to address the elephant on the sidewalk they are liable to say something like: “Why don’t you take a cab. You don’t want to go through one of those roadside checks and get caught.”

It’s not cool to talk about death. Getting nailed by the cops though – that’s a sexier conversation.

And it’s the reason B.C.’s  December CounterAttack program is such a crucial part of impaired driving enforcement. By implementing roadside spot checks,  police are literally trying to save people’s lives by scaring them to death.

Because nobody wants to lose a driver’s licence. In some cases it could mean losing a job as well, or a spouse and family, or the respect of a community.

Impaired driving legislation across Canada can best be described as a dog’s breakfast. There are federal laws and provincial laws and it can seem like they are constantly being amended, proposed, passed or struck down.

They are, in fact, hard for a layperson to understand – especially if he or she has been drinking.

According to ICBC the holiday season is the second most likely time of the year to meet an impaired driver on BC roads, and it’s the only time you are going to meet the December CounterAttack program. A review of the law is timely.*

The federal Criminal Code states it’s a criminal offence to operate a motor vehicle (whether in motion or not) while impaired, which includes driving with a blood alcohol content of more than 80 milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood (0.08 BAC) or impairment by a drug.

If arrested, prosecuted and convicted under the code, consequences are determined by a judge.

Provincially, B.C. roads are controlled by the Motor Vehicle Act. If an officer has reason to believe that a driver is under the influence of alcohol he or she can request a breath sample using an Approved Screening Device.

So you had a beer and you smell like beer and you take the test.

If you have a digital reading of between 0 and .049  your blood alcohol level is below the “Warn” range.  You may be subject to a 12-hour driving prohibition if you are in the graduated licensing program.

But let’s say you had two beers at the party. You take the test and your blood alcohol level is over .05mg/100ml. Your driver’s license is seized immediately, prohibiting you from driving for three days. Your vehicle is impounded for that time and you are responsible for towing and storage costs. You pay an automatic $200 administrative fee, and you have to apply to have your license re-instated.

It’s worse if you have three or four beers, worse if you actually fail the test.

If your blood alcohol level exceeds .08 or if you refuse to provide a breath sample, you are giving police a choice.

An officer may issue you a 90-day immediate roadside prohibition (which is exactly what it sounds like), your vehicle is impounded for 30 days and the administrative fee is set at $500. You may also be referred to the Responsible Driver Program or the Ignition Interlock Program.

The police may choose, however, to charge you under the Criminal Code. If that’s the case you receive an immediate 24-hour driving suspension, you are detained at a police station for further testing and you are thereafter issued a 90-day Administrative Driving Prohibition. If you are found guilty in federal court (and almost everybody in those circumstances is) the consequences include a minimum $1,000 fine, a driving prohibition and possible jail time.

Hitting a roadside spotcheck after a party is pretty scary isn’t it?

Then again, so is dying horribly in a car crash.

*All legal information accessed at the Ministry of Justice’s website. Provincial penalties noted are for first offenses within five years and penalties increase for multiple offences.


Andrea Demeer is the publisher/editor for the Similkameen Spotlight.