EDITORIAL: Shifting the cost of drunk driving

The onus is on the individual to defend wrongful drinking and driving charges

When B.C. launched Canada’s toughest drinking and driving laws in 2010, not everyone embraced the initiative with open arms.

A year after police were given powers to suspend a licence for 90 days on the spot and impound the vehicle for 30 days, with little recourse for appeal, a judge ruled the laws went too far and violated the Charter of Rights.

Last May, the provincial government eased up on those regulations, slightly, and gave people a better chance to fight what are significant financial penalties for drinking and driving.

The Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles is reviewing 1,200 cases of people caught under the immediate roadside prohibition (IRP) system just prior to the laws being thrown out in 2011.

But for everyone else, the tough rules are the law of the land (at least until another constitutional challenge) – blow a “fail” and you’ll lose your licence for 90 days, your car for 30, be forced to install an ignition interlock system, take a driver education program, and face fines. All told, the fines and fees add up to about $4,040 at minimum.

An IRP appears punitive on the driver, and to a large degree it is. But the crux of the system, besides acting as a deterrent, is that it removes drinking and driving from the criminal justice system.

The courts in B.C. had to deal with thousands fewer drinking and driving cases last year. Instead of those criminal cases gumming up an already calcified court system and costing taxpayer money, the financial burden has been downloaded to the accused drunk driver.

Being criminally prosecuted for drinking and driving certainly comes with financial penalties, the potential for jail time and a criminal record, but due to the overwhelming caseloads in many jurisdictions, there is always a chance that the case could drag out and eventually be thrown out of court due to a lack of a speedy trial.

The IRP process, “immediate” being the key word, provides a summary punishment and puts the onus on the accused drunk driver to appeal the fines and penalties.

The pendulum of law, it seems, has distinctly swung to the side of law and order rather than the assumption of innocence, in terms of drinking and driving. Statistics over the past decade show that drivers in B.C. weren’t getting the message. Perhaps they will now.

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