New drink driving laws in Canada are “appealing” says charity

Canada-style decriminalising of drink driving laws 'appealing', says UK safety charity

Province of Alberta is to implement 'immediate roadside sanctions' system

A ROAD SAFETY charity in the UK has said a Canadian-style system of decriminalising drink driving in favour of immediate roadside punishment is ‘appealing’.

The new rules, versions of which were introduced in British Columbia nearly a decade ago and Manitoba in 2018, and now look likely to be adopted in Alberta, give police officers discretion to enforce “immediate roadside sanctions”, including fines, three-month licence confiscations and 30-day vehicle seizures. Administrative fines are processed within an hour, rather than the four hours needed for a criminal charge. Only re-offenders and those who cause harm or death face criminal charges.

“It’s obvious the criminal justice system punishes people, but it doesn’t stop people from reoffending and people continuing to drive impaired,” said Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, which has strongly supported decriminalisation across Canada and is now lobbying for Alberta to enact similar policies.

“Our organisation is all about stopping deaths, not punishing people.”

Drink driving has been a blemish on Canada’s reputation, with deaths caused by drunk drivers in the country some of the highest in the developed world. One in 20 Alberta residents admitted to drink driving in a 2014 survey. Since the introduction of the new system in British Columbia, drink driving incidents have fallen by a third and deaths related to drink driving by half.

John Scroby, a spokesperson for the UK’s Campaign Against Drink Driving (CADD), told that the Canadian system was an “ideal way of dealing with what are referred to as low-level offenders.”

He added: “This could well prove a positive deterrent to drink and drug drivers.”

However, Scroby, a retired constable who spent a number of years in road policing, pointed out that police in the UK already have the power to confiscate a vehicle at the roadside, in order to deal with offences such as driving without a licence. He also warned that using the word “decriminalise” could be a misleading term, as it “might suggest to some that the offence is being in some way watered down.”

Detective Superintendent Andy Cox, who leads London’s Vision Zero campaign, said: “I understand why authorities consider the need to consider new methods and approaches to resolve the risk that repeat drunk drivers pose.

“I will watch this new approach used in Canada and will be keen to see any independent evaluation as and when it emerges. Rehabilitation of drug drivers is undoubtedly a positive step in terms of curbing their future risk; supporting any alcohol recovery issues they may have and fundamentally educating on the risk they pose themselves and others.”

Other charities, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) are waiting to see the effectiveness of the system before endorsing it.

Nick Lloyd, the charity’s head of road safety, said: “Promoting the dangers of drink-driving, supported by educational interventions which reduce the likelihood of re-offending, is essential. So too is enforcement, which must be severe enough to act as a deterrent for those who intentionally break the law, thereby putting themselves and others at risk.

“RoSPA is unable to comment on the merits of Canada’s decriminalisation of drink-drive laws and its effectiveness, and we would like to see further studies to assess whether it changes driver behaviour.”

However, Scroby is doubtful even evidence of the Canadian system’s effectiveness would result in it being adopted in the UK. “The example from Canada is encouraging to say the least, but I cannot envisage such action being taken in the UK. Successive governments have failed to react to public opinion or the facts laid before them on impaired driving.”

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