Skip to main content
road sage

As of Nov. 25, Quebec motorists who have been convicted twice of drunk driving over a ten-year period will be required to install a breathalyzer in their vehicle.Daniel CHETRONI/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Drunk driving is an ironic crime. It’s as preventable as it is lethal. It’s simple. If you’re impaired, don’t drive.

Despite this fact, drunk drivers remain responsible for thousands of deaths each year. Though drunk driving has declined over the last two decades due to increased public awareness and effective policing, each day approximately four Canadians are killed and 175 injured in crashes involving impaired drivers.

Quebec may have an answer. As of Nov. 25, motorists who have been convicted twice of drunk driving over a ten-year period will be required to install a breathalyzer in their vehicle and pass its test each time they start their engine. That’s on top of existing sanctions such as fines, vehicle seizure and licence suspension. Those sentenced to lifetime breathalyzers will be identified on their driver’s licenses. This way, police can ensure that their vehicles are equipped with the devices.

This is not only the toughest anti-drunk-driving law in Canada, it’s one of the toughest in the world. Experts say that breathalyzers are one of the most effective means of preventing drunk driving. Quebec’s law just might work because it targets habitual drunk drivers. Those are the motorists – our drunk-driving enthusiasts – who are responsible for much of the mayhem.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2015, drivers who admitted to having driven drunk “reported that they had done so, on average, six times in the preceding 12 months … One in six accused of impaired driving in 2014/2015 had previously been accused of the same crime in the preceding 10 years. Among those accused of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death, 20 per cent had been previously accused of impaired driving in the preceding 10 years.”

The law is sure to be challenged. Some lawyer will argue that there is no punishment crueler than one that requires a habitual drunk driver to suffer the inconvenience and expense of using a breathalyzer before driving. That’s a sign of a national culture (from Newfoundland to British Columbia) that views driving as a sacred right, not a privilege. Drunk driving has always been illegal. Folks do it anyway. That’s the limit of the law.

The truth is that laws don’t cure stupid, and there is no other word to describe someone who habitually gets drunk and then drives. The kind of person who drives drunk is the kind of person who drives when their licence is suspended and spends hours and money figuring out how to “beat” the breathalyzer (rather than confronting their drinking problem). Their stupidity is rivalled only by their astonishment when they cause a crash and kill or hurt others. This surprise is then surpassed solely by their remorse.

Man, are they sorry.

They tell the judge they have no idea how they will be able to go on living with all the guilt they carry. But wouldn’t you know it, they somehow find a way, and the years roll by as they go about living (and eventually driving) while the families of those they’ve killed have nothing but painful memories and the knowledge that in exchange for murdering another human being, the guilt-ridden drunk driver did a few years of jail time.

It kind of makes you wonder why we don’t just install breathalyzers in every single vehicle.

The Yuletide season is upon us. There will be RIDE programs. Last year, the Toronto police arrested 1,042 people for impaired driving. It’s a sad fact, but each year, some Canadian drivers think the best way to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is to drink a half-bottle of vodka and get behind the wheel. Let me remind these folks that while Jesus rose again, we don’t.

Be your own breathalyzer. If you’ve been drinking, don’t drive. Lie down until the urge goes away.

Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up today.