New Im­paired Driv­ing Leg­is­la­tion

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - News -

Bill C-46 will be a key is­sue as Par­lia­ment re­sumes this month. If passed, the Bill would sim­plify the fed­eral im­paired driv­ing law, cre­ate new drug-re­lated driv­ing of­fences, and ad­dress ev­i­den­tiary and pro­ce­dural con­cerns that al­low im­paired driv­ers to avoid con­vic­tion. We sup­port these mea­sures be­cause they will im­prove the fed­eral im­paired driv­ing law.

How­ever, in terms of re­duc­ing im­paired driv­ing deaths, the most im­por­tant change is the manda­tory al­co­hol screen­ing (MAS) pro­vi­sion. This mea­sure would au­tho­rize po­lice to de­mand a road­side breath test from any driver who they have law­fully stopped. The test re­sults would not be ad­mis­si­ble in court, but rather would be used solely to de­ter­mine if there were grounds for fur­ther test­ing. MAS tests are con­ducted while the driv­ers re­main seated in their car, are non-in­tru­sive and in­volve a stop of about two min­utes.

Op­po­nents claim that MAS is un­nec­es­sary and that Canada’s im­paired driv­ing laws are work­ing well. It is dif­fi­cult to see how any­one can cred­i­bly make this claim, given that im­pair­ment-re­lated crashes kill about 1,000 Cana­di­ans each year and in­jure nearly 60,000 more.

In fact, Canada has an ex­tremely poor im­paired driv­ing record. Con­sis­tent with ear­lier stud­ies, the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol re­ported that Canada had the high­est per­cent­age of al­co­hol-re­lated crash deaths among 20 high-in­come coun­tries in 2013. Although Cana­di­ans drink less than the res­i­dents of most of these other coun­tries, they are much more likely to die in an al­co­hol-re­lated crash. A key dif­fer­ence between Canada and al­most all of these other coun­tries is that they have en­acted MAS leg­is­la­tion.

Re­search over the last 45 years in numer­ous coun­tries shows that MAS gen­er­ates sub­stan­tial and last­ing re­duc­tions in im­paired driv­ing crashes. For ex­am­ple, a 2004 study con­cluded that New Zealand’s MAS pro­gram re­sulted in a 54% de­crease in se­ri­ous and fa­tal night­time crashes and saved so­ci­ety more than $1 bil­lion in 1997. Ire­land achieved sim­i­lar re­duc­tions in crash deaths and in­juries within a decade of en­act­ing MAS in 2006. Rather than over­bur­den­ing Ire­land’s courts, MAS was the ma­jor fac­tor in im­paired driv­ing charges drop­ping from 18,560 to 6,525 dur­ing this pe­riod.

Crit­ics have claimed that MAS could lead to dis­crim­i­na­tion or tar­get­ing of cer­tain groups. In fact, the op­po­site is true. Cana­dian po­lice al­ready have au­thor­ity to stop and ques­tion driv­ers about their driv­ing and so­bri­ety. Mil­lions of driv­ers are stopped each year at so­bri­ety check­points and dur­ing rou­tine po­lice pa­trol ac­tiv­i­ties. Cur­rently, the pro­cess­ing of these driv­ers is based on the of­fi­cer’s sub­jec­tive as­sess­ment, us­ing his or her own un­aided senses.

MAS would change only one as­pect of the ex­ist­ing law – namely, the ba­sis for de­mand­ing a road­side breath test. In con­trast to the cur­rent sys­tem, all driv­ers stopped would be as­sessed based on an ob­jec­tive, non-ar­bi­trary screen­ing test, rather than an of­fi­cer’s sub­jec­tive judge­ment. MAS lim­its sub­jec­tiv­ity in as­sess­ing driv­ers.

While MAS, like many other crim­i­nal amend­ments, will be chal­lenged un­der the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms, it must be put in the con­text of other ac­cepted screen­ing pro­ce­dures. Mil­lions of Cana­di­ans are rou­tinely sub­ject to manda­tory screen­ing at Cana­dian air­ports, bor­ders, courts, and many other gov­ern­ment build­ings. The Cana­dian courts have never held these manda­tory searches to vi­o­late the Char­ter.

Put bluntly, far more Cana­di­ans are killed in al­co­hol-re­lated crashes than in at­tacks at our air­ports, bor­ders or courts. Given that MAS op­er­ates the same way and serves the same pro­tec­tive pur­pose as air­port, bor­der and court searches, it too should be up­held un­der the Char­ter.

In our view, the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment is to be con­grat­u­lated on in­tro­duc­ing MAS, a crit­i­cally im­por­tant and long over­due traf­fic safety mea­sure.

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