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LETTER: Mandatory alcohol screening to save lives this holiday season.

Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada.  Indeed, Statistics Canada estimates that more than half of motor vehicle fatalities are linked to alcohol or drug impairment. This is completely unacceptable and why our Government has strengthened the laws that keep Canadians safe on our roads and highways.

With the holiday season upon us, it is a perfect time to remind Canadians of an important new initiative that is now the law. On Dec. 18, 2018, new alcohol impaired driving laws came into force across Canada. These stronger laws will make all Canadians safer.  This is in addition to the new drug-impaired driving offense which came into force June 21, 2018.

The changes to the alcohol impaired driving offences represent the most significant reforms to this part of the Criminal Code in more than 40 years. While the focus is clearly on saving lives by deterring impaired driving, these reforms will also lead to more efficient trials, and will reduce the burden on our courts, all the while respecting our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In terms of the new rules coming into force just in time for the holiday season, Canadians should be aware of the following changes: 1. mandatory alcohol screening at the roadside; 2. new and higher minimum fines; 3. higher maximum penalties; 4. changes to some legal defences that used to reward risky behavior; and 5. clarifying what the Crown must disclose to the defence. These changes to the law have been designed to reduce the incidence of impaired driving and save lives. 

Of these changes, the biggest is mandatory alcohol screening.  Police are now able to demand a breath sample from any driver that has been lawfully stopped without first requiring a reasonable suspicion that the person has been drinking. Drivers can be lawfully stopped in Newfoundland and Labrador because an officer reasonably suspects some other driving infraction has occurred, or even at random to ensure that drivers are licensed and insured.  While stopped, an alcohol breath sample can now be taken in the ordinary course. 

Mandatory alcohol screening (known elsewhere as Random Breath Testing, or RBT) is a proven traffic safety measure, with renowned international success. It has been implemented in more than 40 countries and where it is has been put in place, it has saved lives.  For instance, in Ireland, the introduction of mandatory alcohol screening is credited with reducing the number of people killed on their roads by 23 per cent in the first year and 40 per cent over the first 4 years following its enactment in 2006.  The Australian states and territories have all had this testing for over 30 years now, with similar success. In Canada, we expect that this change alone will have a profound impact on the safety of our roads and the lives of Canadians. 

I was proud to support this legislation in the House of Commons as part of my speech on M-148 to create a National Impaired Driving Prevention Week.  Mandatory alcohol screening, increased penalties and streamlined prosecution will increase the safety of our roads by deterring impaired driving and will reduce the number of road fatalities.

Giving police officers more tools to enforce these new laws, means more impaired drivers are going to be caught.  Knowing that police officers now have these tools means fewer people will flaunt the law.  Either way, fewer people will be hurt or killed in impaired driving accidents.  If you are planning on drinking or using cannabis this holiday season, make a plan to get home safely that does not include you getting behind the wheel.

Nick Whalen,

MP St. John’s East.

Related story:

Stricter drunk driving laws to take effect across Canada on Tuesday

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