Quebec's fight against impaired driving has taken a bizarre twist as the government retreats on its plan to reduce the legal blood-alcohol level to 0.05 from 0.08, contrary to what many other provinces have done.
Transport Minister Sam Hamad said on Monday that Quebeckers aren't ready to support the proposal and need more time to be persuaded.
"You have to listen to people and we realize that Quebeckers aren't ready and that's all right," he said. "So we will act differently. ... We will increase the number of roadblocks and monitor the behaviour of Quebeckers."
A timely increase in the number of roadblocks at the right locations has proven effective in reducing drinking and driving, according to the organization Educ-Alcool, a coalition dedicated to keeping drunks off the roads.
"In Italy, they tripled the number of roadblocks and reduced impaired driving by 60 per cent," said the group's director-general, Hubert Sacy.
Mr. Hamad said roadblocks will also be part of a three-year pilot project to issue warnings to those driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.05. He added that Quebec eventually will follow other provinces and reduce the legal alcohol limit to 50 milligrams of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood.
"Citizens aren't ready yet. We want to do it but not right now," Mr. Hamad said.
He said that when photo radar was introduced as a pilot project to require strict compliance with speed limits in strategic locations, only half of Quebeckers approved. Now, he said, 80 per cent support it.
The decision to backtrack on a tougher blood-alcohol limit was applauded by restaurant and bar owners, who had lobbied hard against it.
The change was among a series of amendments introduced on Monday to the new highway safety bill, which also cracks down on repeat offenders. Those convicted more than three times of impaired driving will be ordered to have a breath-alcohol ignition device installed on their vehicles for the rest of their lives.
Quebec will also ask the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to designate those repeatedly convicted of impaired driving as high-risk offenders. Mr. Hamad said authorities should be able to place repeat offenders under constant supervision. Curfews could be imposed as well as restrictions on when and where repeat offenders are alowed drive, Mr. Hamad said. And the province wants Ottawa to give the police more powers to force drivers to take breath tests.
The Quebec bill also includes provisions to double the fines for driving above the speed limit in construction zones.
The government has decided to backtrack on a measure that would have required cyclists to wear helmets. Mr. Hamad said it would be too difficult for police to enforce, especially for children of low-income families.
"We will instead attempt to educate people on the need for cyclists to wear helmets. And we could also consider distributing them to those who can't afford to buy one," the minister stated.
The opposition parties applauded the amendments to the bill, suggesting it might be passed by the end of the fall session on Friday.