Victoria police chief applauds amended legislation around drinking and driving

Changes fortify appeal process for accused impaired drivers

Victoria’s police chief is relieved his officers, and their policing counterparts elsewhere in the province, can once again rely on B.C.’s tough drinking and driving laws, after amendments took effect last Friday.

“We think that this process has triggered a very positive change in people’s attitudes and people’s behaviour (toward impaired driving),” said Chief Const. Jamie Graham, chair of the traffic safety committee of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.

Under the amended legislation governing immediate roadside prohibitions – which include driving bans, vehicle impoundments and fines – the rights of drivers wanting to challenge their breath test and appeal their penalties have been beefed up.

The Motor Vehicle Act laws governing this were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of B.C. last November. Since then the province has made changes to the rules that once again allow police to more efficiently tackle drunk driving, but which now strengthen the rights of accused drivers.

In addition to the strengthened administrative review process, police now must inform drivers that they can challenge the results of their first breath sample by providing a second sample on a different screening device.

The lower of the two readings now takes precedence, rather than the second reading trumping the first, as was the case before the changes.

To further bolster fairness for drivers, B.C.’s Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles will review the reliability of screening device results, and ensure police issued a driving ban based on the lowest reading.

Police are also now required to submit sworn reports on roadside prohibitions to the superintendent’s office, as well as documentation on the calibration of screening devices.

Before immediate roadside prohibitions were brought into force in September 2010, police relied on the Criminal Code to penalize impaired drivers, a paperwork-intensive process that delayed officers at the police station or in court.

Thanks to the amended legislation, police once again have at their disposal penalties that send a zero-tolerance message to impaired drivers, Graham said.

“In my view, this is the toughest impaired driving process in the country.”

In the year after the immediate roadside sanctions came into effect, there was a 40-per-cent decline in alcohol-related traffic deaths, according to the province.

emccracken@vicnews.com