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An RCMP officer performs a breathalyzer test on a driver during a roadside check in Surrey, B.C., just before midnight on Friday September 24, 2010. The woman blew .05 and received an immediate three-day driving ban and a $200 fine. Strict new drunk-driving laws, now considered to be the toughest in the country, took effect in B.C. this week. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
An RCMP officer performs a breathalyzer test on a driver during a roadside check in Surrey, B.C., just before midnight on Friday September 24, 2010. The woman blew .05 and received an immediate three-day driving ban and a $200 fine. Strict new drunk-driving laws, now considered to be the toughest in the country, took effect in B.C. this week. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

B.C's new impaired driving laws are decreasing deaths, data shows Add to ...

B.C.’s new drunk driving laws have dramatically reduced the number of deaths where impaired driving is believed to be a factor, says Attorney General Barry Penner.

Mr. Penner released new data on Thursday based on the first five months since the province’s new law came into effect.

Last year, the government promised the toughest drunk-driving laws in the country. But in recent months, concerns from restaurant and pub owners about the impact on business prompted government officials to rethink the law.

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Mr. Penner said the preliminary statistics show the law is working precisely as intended.

“We’re seeing a decrease of 75 to 80 per cent in the number of new impaired driving cases entering the court system,” Mr. Penner said.

“It’s a remarkable drop, but more important is the decrease in deaths in such a short period of time.”

Between October, 2010, and February 2011, there were 22 deaths in British Columbia related to alleged drunk driving. The five-year average for the same five months was 45 deaths.

Mr. Penner said the changes have also freed up police for other duties. Instead of spending an average of four to five days processing criminal charges, they spend four to five hours administering roadside penalties.

The new law gives police the authority to impose tougher roadside penalties for drivers who refuse a breath sample or are found with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit of 0.08 per cent. Drivers face an immediate, 90-day driving ban and a $500 fine plus their vehicle can be impounded for 30 days.

The new rules also created a “warning” category for drivers with blood alcohol levels between 0.05 and 0.08 per cent. Penalties include an immediate, three-day driving ban and a $200 fine for a first-time offence. In both cases, drivers will pay more to restore their driving privileges, up to $3,750 following any roadside suspension.

Prior to the introduction of the law, an estimated 130 people were killed in British Columbia every year as a result of drunk driving.

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