EDMONTON - Alberta drivers who already face stiffer administrative penalties for drunk driving can now also get hit with longer licence suspensions for driving close to the legal limit.

On Saturday, new penalties kick in for those who are below the legal limit of .08 but above .05 — a level the province still considers unsafe.

Those who are pulled over and blow within that window in a roadside screening device will have their vehicles impounded for three days and their licences suspended for three days as well. Those penalties increase for subsequent offences.

"(The numbers) suggest to me that people are not getting the message on impaired driving," said Transportation Minister Ric McIver in an interview. "We're going to be monitoring the enforcement results to see if we're getting more or fewer impaired drivers."

The changes are the second of a two-stage modification to Alberta's traffic safety laws aimed at cracking down further on drunk drivers.

Penalties have already been boosted for those who drive over the legal limit, which is 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood — commonly known as .08.

Those who blow over .08 are still charged under the Criminal Code with impaired driving. But as of July 1, their vehicles have been impounded for three days and, more importantly, their driver's licences have been suspended indefinitely until their cases are resolved in the courts.

Preliminary numbers released this week by the province show that over the summer 994 Alberta drivers had their licences suspended pending criminal proceedings while 632 had vehicles seized. There were 114 licence suspensions and 73 vehicles impounded for new drivers with graduated licences.

The Criminal Trial Lawyers Association has said it's concerned about the fairness of indefinite suspensions, given that it can take months for cases to come to trials. That may be an unfair inducement to get the accused driver to plead guilty just to be able to drive again.

McIver said the indefinite suspension is designed to send a tough message. Government lawyers advise it will survive a court challenge.

He said there are no plans to revisit the law, but said officials will be monitoring the arrests on an ongoing basis to see what's working.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he said.

The staunchest critic of the new laws, passed by Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservative government last fall, has been the Opposition Wildrose Party.

The debate has brought ugly accusations from both sides. The Wildrose has accused the Tories of targeting hardworking Albertans who just want a beer after work at the expense of going after severely impaired repeat offenders.

The Tories, in turn, have charged that by not backing tougher rules, the Wildrose is happy to see sloshed Albertans get behind the wheel.

Wildrose critic Shayne Saskiw said the province is addressing the right problem the wrong way.

"We should be increasing the front-line enforcement, getting more officers at CheckStops and going after those repeat drunk drivers who are a threat to our families," said Saskiw.

"What's going to happen is that police officers will be waiting for tow trucks for hours on the side of the road while a whole bunch of dangerous drunk drivers drive through what has otherwise been a CheckStop.

"We don't need more public relations exercises. We need more front-line officers."

Related on HuffPost:

Alcohol Addiction Signs From Everyday Health


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  • Abuse: Not Meeting Responsibilities

    <i>Abuse, the regular use of a substance that leads to serious psychological and/or physical disability, is shown by one or more of these symptoms during the same year:</i> Repeated substance use to the point of not being able to meet responsibilities -- not performing well at work, being suspended from school, being repeatedly late or absent from required duties, or neglecting household tasks.

  • Abuse: Involving Risk

    <i>Abuse, the regular use of a substance that leads to serious psychological and/or physical disability, is shown by one or more of these symptoms during the same year:</i> Repeated substance use when there is risk involved, like operating equipment or driving a car while under the influence.

  • Abuse: Difficulties With The Law

    <i>Abuse, the regular use of a substance that leads to serious psychological and/or physical disability, is shown by one or more of these symptoms during the same year:</i> Repeated difficulties with the law related to substance use -- being arrested for physical aggression or drunk driving, for instance.

  • Abuse: Personal Or Social Difficulties

    <i>Abuse, the regular use of a substance that leads to serious psychological and/or physical disability, is shown by one or more of these symptoms during the same year:</i> Insisting on using the substance regardless of continued or repeated personal or social difficulties because of it, verbal or physical aggression with a loved one, or frequent arguments about the substance use.

  • Dependence: Needing Great Amounts

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Needing greater amounts of alcohol to satisfy cravings.

  • Dependence: An Inability To Reduce Use

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Using the substance longer than planned or more frequently and in greater amounts. An inability to reduce use, despite a sincere wish to do so.

  • Dependence: Going Through Withdrawal

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Going through withdrawal when not using alcohol, with symptoms such as tremors, restlessness, and agitation.

  • Dependence: Avoiding Withdrawal

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Taking a substance or a similar one to avoid the effects of withdrawal.

  • Dependence: Spending Time On Alcohol

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Spending a significant amount of time trying to acquire the substance. Spending less time at work or on other activities because of substance use; a person may completely abandon previously enjoyable activities.

  • Dependence: Drinking In The Face Of Difficulty

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Continuing to drink despite being aware that alcohol is causing psychological or physical difficulties.

  • Addiction: Saying Inappropriate Things

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Does he/she frequently say inappropriate things?

  • Addiction: Slurred Speech

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Does his/her speech slurred?

  • Addiction: Missing Work

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Does he/she miss work?

  • Addiction: Off Balance

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Is his/her balance off when they walk?

  • Addiction: Trouble With The Law

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Has he/she gotten in trouble with the law, for example, with drinking and driving?

  • Addiction: Health Problems

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Is he having health issues related to alcohol addiction, such as heartburn, liver problems, high blood pressure, or insomnia?

  • Question To Ask: Should I Cut Down?

    <i>Take the CAGE questionnaire -- if the answer to two or more of the four CAGE questions is yes, it is likely you have a problem.</i> C stands for cut-down: Do you ever feel that you should cut down on your drinking?

  • Question To Ask: People Getting Annoyed?

    <i>Take the CAGE questionnaire -- if the answer to two or more of the four CAGE questions is yes, it is likely you have a problem.</i> A stands for annoyed: Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

  • Question To Ask: Ever Felt Guilty?

    <i>Take the CAGE questionnaire -- if the answer to two or more of the four CAGE questions is yes, it is likely you have a problem.</i> G stands for guilty: Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?

  • Question To Ask: Drinking To 'Recover'?

    <i>Take the CAGE questionnaire -- if the answer to two or more of the four CAGE questions is yes, it is likely you have a problem.</i> E stands for eye-opener: Have you ever had to drink as soon as you wake up to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?