Alberta Drunk Driving Penalties Getting Tougher On July 1

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CALGARY - The Alberta government is bringing in its tougher new penalties for drinking and driving on the July 1 long weekend.

"The limits have not changed. The consequences of exceeding those limits have," Transportation Minister Ric McIver said Monday.

Drivers caught with a blood alcohol level higher than .08 will lose their licence immediately and will not be allowed behind the wheel until charges are resolved. Alberta will become the first province to institute indefinite suspensions for those caught after too many drinks.

As well, drivers convicted under federal laws also will have a device installed in their vehicles for up to five years to prevent them from starting if high blood alcohol is detected.

Drivers with graduated licences will face tougher penalties, including a seven-day vehicle seizure.

A 72-hour licence suspension for those found with blood alcohol levels between .05 and .08 won't be instituted until Sept. 1.

The government's plan to reduce road accidents due to drinking and driving was met with strong opposition when it was first introduced in the legislature last year. Critics said it amounted to roadside criminal convictions and smacked of a nanny state.

Restaurant and bar owners have said they are worried the changes will hurt business as patrons will be afraid to have even one glass of wine because it could leave them legally impaired.

Some establishments have threatened to challenge the law in court, saying it violates constitutional guarantees of the presumption of innocence.

McIver said he's confident the legislation has enough safeguards and avenues for appeal to survive a court challenge.

"The people that we get advice from at the province have told us this legislation will stand up to a constitutional challenge."

A similar British Columbia law that was struck down in the courts is being redrafted more along the lines of Alberta's bill, he said.

A $350,000 public education campaign will soon be rolled out, McIver added.

"It's about reinforcing in the minds of Albertans that they need to take this seriously. They can go out and have a good time (but) they need to do it responsibly."

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton

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