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New drivers cause spike in Vancouver driving prohibitions

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.


The Vancouver Police Department's efforts to curb drunk driving are missing the mark with new drivers.

While overall driving prohibitions issued by police during summer roadblock season are down, new drivers caught on the road after drinking already outnumber last summer's total count.

Last weekend, police roadblock crews issued 44 prohibitions during Friday and Saturday night to impaired drivers. Seven of those were 12-hour prohibitions for new drivers who registered blood alcohol concentration levels between zero and .049 after taking a breathalyzer test.

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"[New drivers] know they're not allowed to have any alcohol at all in their system," said VPD spokesman Constable Lindsey Houghton. "That's part of their driving restrictions."

Those seven new drivers bring this summer's total to 37 so far, said Constable Houghton – already one more than last summer. Police still have about three more weekend roadblocks scheduled before the program ends in the middle of August.

The 12-hour driving ban starts immediately after the driver is caught, he said. Police confiscate the licence and tow the vehicle. The prohibition sparks an administrative review, he said, and new drivers can face longer driving penalties or even lose their licence – if they have any other tickets.

Police issued 37 other sanctions for drivers scoring higher than .049 blood alcohol levels, he said. Some of those sanctions were also handed out to new drivers, Constable Houghton said.

But the 12-hour prohibitions go to new drivers who aren't adhering to the no-alcohol rule, he said.

"These are drivers who have either had one or a couple or only a few drinks while they're out," he said. "Being the designated driver – if these new drivers are in fact the designated drivers – that doesn't mean that you're the person that has the least number of drinks."

He said the numbers could have been even higher this weekend, but staffing and the weather brought the tally down.

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"People aren't as likely to sit out on a patio or go to a backyard barbeque when it's 15 degrees and raining," he said. "When it's … sunny and hot, people will go out and spend hours – or longer or shorter – drinking with their friends and generally having a good time, but then choosing to get behind the wheel of a car."

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