Alberta Drunk Driving Law To Crack Down On Impaired Drivers

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EDMONTON - Alberta is cracking down on suspected impaired drivers with proposed legislation that calls for more mandatory vehicle seizures and licence suspensions.

The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving is praising the move, saying the prospect of having their vehicle impounded will stop people from drinking and getting behind the wheel.

But the hospitality industry says some of the measures aimed at social drinkers will drive business away from Alberta bars and restaurants, especially in rural areas.

Transportation Minister Ray Danyluk says Bill 26 is not aimed at people having a drink while out for dinner or with friends, but on changing people's behaviour.

"I have one goal for this legislation, and that is having more Albertans arrive home safe at the end of day," Danyluk said Monday.

Under the proposed changes, drivers caught with over the legal blood alcohol limit of .08 for the first time would have their vehicle impounded for three days. They'd also lose their licence until the criminal charge was resolved.

They would then have to install an alcohol screening device for one year — at their own cost — to prevent their vehicle from starting if booze were detected.

Repeat offenders would have to use the alcohol screening devices for up to five years and take a remedial driving course before getting their licence back.

Danyluk called the measures the toughest in Canada.

The other major change proposed in Bill 26 calls for drivers caught with blood alcohol levels below the legal limit — from .05 to .08 — to lose their vehicles and licences for three days.

The British Columbia government is reporting a 47 per cent drop in alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths 10 months after it introduced such immediate suspensions for people suspected of driving just below the legal limit.

Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Alberta's legislation closely follows the B.C. model and will yield results.

"The fact that you would lose your vehicle for three days has enormous behaviour change on the public. The fact that they might lose their car is not worth the risk," Murie said from Toronto.

"That is what makes the big difference. That is where Alberta is going to get success from the delivery of this program."

Business groups say parts of the legislation aimed at people caught driving with just below the legal limit of alcohol will send a chill through the hospitality industry.

Mark Von Schellwitz of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association says the group's 4,000 members in Alberta are worried they will lose sales.

He pointed to B.C., where some owners are reporting significant drops in customers. He said the association would prefer the province crack down harder on problem drunk drivers.

"More than 80 per cent think that it is going to have a very negative impact on their businesses as happened in British Columbia," he said.

"About 88 per cent of our B.C. licensed members reported an average drop in sales of 21 per cent."

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business called on the Alberta government to consult with restaurant and bar owners before passing the law.

The federation said it also wants the province to focus more on what it calls high-risk impaired drivers.

"The goal should be to ensure effective enforcement strategies to combat impaired driving without such a negative impact on small business," said Richard Truscott, the federation's Alberta director.

Police in Alberta can already hand out temporary licence suspensions, but only for 24 hours.

The government says Bill 26 does not include increased fines or demerit points for impaired driving because there is no evidence they have a significant impact.

Last year, 96 people died and 1,384 were injured in Alberta because of impaired driving.

The bill also calls for changes to rules governing new drivers, especially people under 18.

It says novice drivers with a graduated licence would have their vehicle seized for seven days if they were found with any alcohol in their system. Their licence would be taken away for 30 days.