Decriminalizing drunk driving: what Alberta can learn from BC

Alberta looking at decriminalizing drunk driving

The Alberta government is looking into decriminalizing drunk driving. If the province’s lawmakers want to see how such a thing would work all they need to do is look at their neighbours.

British Columbia largely decriminalized drunk driving 10 years ago with the introduction of the Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP) scheme.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving supported decriminalizing drunk driving in BC and its CEO Andrew Murie claims in a recent article that space was cleared up in courts, while rehabilitation was promoted. That is not the case.

Nothing about the IRP scheme focuses on rehabilitation. There is an immediate penalty, which can only be appealed successfully by meeting certain prescribed grounds of review. Unlike a criminal charge, for which a person may receive a curative discharge or the new interlock option, there is no opportunity to get back on the road with a restricted license by completing alcohol counselling or installing an Interlock.

However, the alcohol counselling component is made mandatory by the operation of Section 25.2 of the Motor Vehicle Act, which requires that any driver who receives a 90-day prohibition or accumulates a certain number of “remedial program points” has to complete a remedial program. The interventions are in two stages: mandatory alcohol education course and mandatory interlock at the second stage.

The referral criteria can be found here.

None of these mandatory criteria cease to apply if a person is charged with a criminal impaired driving offence. A conviction necessitates the same consequences as an IRP. And a criminal charge does and always did come with a 90-day roadside suspension.

The only thing the IRP scheme does differently is rely on less evidence (ASD vs. Breath sample results) and eliminates the court process.

As for the course being some form of rehabilitation, it is a joke. Here’s a link to an interview on my podcast with someone who attended the course and found it to be a colossally expensive waste of time.

Statistically, the IRP scheme has not changed impaired driving. While deaths may have decreased, according to Statistics Canada data from 2015 (the most recent I could find) the highest impaired driving rates were reported in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Saskatchewan. The lowest rates were in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. BC is smack dab in the middle, suggesting that the IRP scheme is not changing attitudes about alcohol-impaired driving at all.

Further, the second- and fourth-highest rates of impaired driving in Census Metropolitan areas were in British Columbia. Kelowna, followed by Victoria in fourth place beat out any location in the territories, which had the highest rates of impaired driving per 100,000 people. Two other BC cities rated above Calgary in its rate of impaired driving.

Further, according to Statistics Canada, from 2010-2015, the first five years of the IRP scheme, British Columbia had the longest median length to trial for impaired driving cases. This means that the IRP scheme did not clear up any backlog in the courts and the backlog remained critically the worst of all of Canada.

Here is the link to the statistical data.

The 50% reduction in deaths is also bogus. From 2014 to 2018, the number of deaths in BC for impaired driving remained almost the same. No reduction. The short-term gains that were realized with the introduction of the scheme have not been maintained and the “vision zero” goal will never be achieved with this law. In fact, the highest rates of deaths recorded in the ICBC stats were in the first year after the scheme came into effect in 2010.

And if you look at the data about roadside prohibitions issued since the law came into effect, it appears that impaired driving generally is on the rise in BC.

In 2017, 14,625 90-day IRPs were issued. That number increased to 15,971 in 2018. In 2019, it jumped again, to 16,178. That’s an increase of approximately 1500 MORE impaired drivers since the previous year. There were only 100 fewer 90-day ADPs (the criminal charge prohibitions) year over year, meaning the numbers are not being made up by people being diverted from court. There are, in fact, more impaired drivers.

That statistic that Murie claimed was 70% diverted from court is not supported by the numbers when you look at how many are getting the court prohibitions each year.

Recidivism is also on the rise. In 2017, 19 people got a third “Warn” prohibition. In 2018, 23 people got a third “Warn” prohibition, and in 2019, that number rose to 27 people. Ditto for second-timers who went from 259 to 293 to 315 by 2019. And first time “warn” prohibitions also increased along the same trend.

This means that more people are driving impaired year over year than the previous year.

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