‘We can do bet­ter’

Canada should drop blood al­co­hol limit to .05, sim­i­lar to other coun­tries: MADD le­gal di­rec­tor

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - EL­IZ­A­BETH PAYNE epayne@post­media.com

Canada does a lousy job of pre­vent­ing im­paired driv­ing deaths com­pared to other coun­tries and low­er­ing le­gal blood al­co­hol lim­its would be a step to­ward im­prov­ing that, ac­cord­ing to the na­tional di­rec­tor of le­gal pol­icy for MADD Canada.

“We have a ter­ri­ble record in terms of im­paired driv­ing,” said Robert Solomon, who is a pro­fes­sor of law at the Univer­sity of West­ern On­tario in ad­di­tion to be­ing the le­gal pol­icy di­rec­tor for Moth­ers Against Drunk Driv­ing.

Solomon made the com­ments as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing low­er­ing le­gal blood al­co­hol lim­its for drivers from the cur­rent .08 per cent to .05 per cent, which is the le­gal limit in many Euro­pean coun­tries and Aus­tralia.

A re­cent study by the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol ranked Canada first among 19 wealthy coun­tries for per­cent­age of traf­fic deaths linked to al­co­hol im­pair­ment. That study, said Solomon, is telling about the dif­fer­ence low­er­ing le­gal blood al­co­hol rates makes.

Fed­eral Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould is look­ing for sup­port from prov­inces to lower the blood-al­co­hol limit for Cana­dian drivers. The cur­rent rate, she said, was es­tab­lished in 1969 and un­der­es­ti­mated how many fatal­i­ties would re­sult.

Still, im­paired driv­ing in­ci­dents are steadily de­clin­ing in Canada. Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada, po­lice re­ported 72,039 im­paired driv­ing in­ci­dents in 2015, rep­re­sent­ing a rate of 201 in­ci­dents per 100,000 pop­u­la­tion — a 30 year low.

Crit­ics note that ev­ery prov­ince, ex­cept Que­bec, al­ready has ad­min­is­tra­tive mea­sures in place, in­clud­ing li­cense sus­pen­sion, for drivers caught with blood al­co­hol lev­els of .05 per cent. Low­er­ing the le­gal limit in the crim­i­nal code would add a sig­nif­i­cant bur­den to the al­ready­clogged court sys­tem where se­ri­ous cases have been stayed be­cause it took too long for them to get to trial, crit­ics fear.

There are cur­rently about 70,000 im­paired cases a year in Canada, said Ot­tawa crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer Michael Spratt, each one takes at least a day. Low­er­ing the limit would add sig­nif­i­cantly to that case load and would be a “dis­as­ter” for a jammed court sys­tem.

The Cana­dian restau­rant in­dus­try, among the lead­ing crit­ics of the pro­posed change, fears it could dev­as­tate restau­rants by dis­cour­ag­ing peo­ple from go­ing out.

“They don’t want to have a crim­i­nal record be­cause they de­cided to have a glass of wine with their din­ner,” said Joyce Reynolds of the Cana­dian Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion.

Oth­ers have sug­gested the lower le­gal blood al­co­hol limit is anti-al­co­hol, no­tions Solomon scoffs at.

“Give me a break,” he said. “This is a stan­dard in­dus­try ar­gu­ment that is made ev­ery time there is a dis­cus­sion. The sim­ple fact is it is not true.”

Solomon notes that Ger­mans con­sume 33% more al­co­hol per capita but Canada’s al­co­hol-re­lated crash deaths are al­most five times as high as in Ger­many. “We can do bet­ter.” In gen­eral, men can con­sume larger amounts of al­co­hol than women be­fore be­com­ing im­paired and smaller women can con­sume less than larger women.

Ac­cord­ing to MADD’s Solomon, a man weigh­ing about 195 pounds could have three, or even four drinks on an empty stom­ach over two hours and still be be­low the .05 blood al­co­hol level cut­off. A woman weigh­ing 130 pounds could con­sume two drinks in two hours on an empty stom­ach and be be­low .05 blood al­co­hol level, he said. Food slows down the ab­sorp­tion of al­co­hol.

Solomon also coun­tered the restau­rant ar­gu­ment that the move would have no im­pact on those with very high blood al­co­hol lev­els who make up a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of drunk drivers.

When both Aus­tralia and Swe­den de­creased le­gal blood al­co­hol lim­its for drivers, the change had more im­pact on hard­core drunk drivers than so­cial drinkers, he said.

“These ar­gu­ments re­mind me of the to­bacco in­dus­try. The in­dus­try at­tempts to de­fend its prof­its. I am not op­posed to the al­co­hol in­dus­try, I just don’t want their prof­its to be built on per­pet­u­at­ing an un­ac­cept­able level of death and in­jury on our roads.”


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