VANCOUVER - British Columbia's controversial drinking and driving laws reduced the number of deaths from alcohol-related crashes by more than 40 per cent two years after they were implemented, a new study suggests.
Research from the University of Victoria said an estimated 104 lives were saved after the laws were introduced in September 2010, there was a 23-per-cent reduction in the number of injuries, and property damage was slashed by nearly 20 per cent.
Lead study author Scott Macdonald, from the university's Centre for Addiction Research, said B.C. is the only province in Canada that has immediate consequences for drivers with blood alcohol levels of higher than .05 per cent, below the Criminal Code threshold of .08 per cent.
Macdonald said other provinces and territories should have similar legislation to B.C., where immediate sanctions have largely replaced the Criminal Code, which had more severe penalties but a lower probability of punishment.
"The problem with the Criminal Code is that it's very time consuming to convict somebody," he said. "You're not criminally charged and it's much more efficient for the officers."
Macdonald said that unlike the old provincial laws, the current legislation requires much less paperwork and uses evidence gathered by police at the roadside with a portable handheld breathalyzer device.
The study, which compared statistics from the 15-year period before and two-year period after the implementation of the legislation, was published in the online journal Accident Analysis and Prevention and is co-authored by researches at the University of B.C.
It said the 68 per cent reduction in Criminal Code charges for drinking amounts to a partial decriminalization of impaired driving in B.C.
The law gives police the power to issue impaired drivers on-the-spot driving prohibitions ranging from three days to 90 days, depending on how much they drank, their vehicle can be impounded for up to a month and they are fined up to $500.
In November 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld the legislation but ruled parts of the law infringed the charter.
The court ruled people accused of impaired driving are deprived of their right to appeal sanctions such as being required to install an ignition-lock device that prevents drunk drivers from starting a vehicle, and enrolling in a remedial program.
The B.C. government introduced amended laws in June 2012 and police were then required to tell drivers they have the right to another breath test on a second screening device, with the lower of the two readings prevailing.
In March, the B.C. Court of Appeal put off a review of the provincial law, which was challenged by several drivers.
Andrew Murie, chief executive officer of MADD Canada, said in a statement that once B.C. figures out its legal challenges surrounding the legislation, its laws could become the "golden template" for the rest of Canada.
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