10/23/2014 02:03 EDT | Updated 12/23/2014 05:59 EST

Nova Scotia to strengthen rules for new drivers under graduated system

HALIFAX - It would take longer for drivers in Nova Scotia to become fully licensed and those drivers would not be allowed to have any alcohol in their system for two years under legislation introduced by the provincial government Tuesday.

Amendments to the province's Motor Vehicle Act would see the minimum time to complete the beginner phase of the graduated licensing program from six months to one year and drivers would have to maintain zero blood alcohol content for two years after they complete the program.

Supervisory drivers would have to be fully licensed for at least two years after they complete the program instead of being immediately eligible to supervise a beginning driver as they are now.

Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said the changes mark the first time the graduated licensing program has been improved since its inception in 1994.

"They will help to instill good driving habits and behaviour early with our ultimate goal to reduce the number of crashes and fatalities on our roads and highways," said MacLellan.

Drivers who have permanently lost their licences following a fourth conviction for impaired driving would also be allowed to apply for reinstatement. The change would not apply to more serious offences such as manslaughter.

Andrew Murie of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada supports changes, saying they would put Nova Scotia's graduated licensing system in line with those in other provinces such as Ontario and Quebec.

Murie said although many in the public may see it as counter-intuitive, his organization has been pushing for the provision that would remove the requirement to permanently revoke the licences of people with four convictions.

He said the change would enable better monitoring of people with convictions who drive regardless, often without insurance.

"This is good public policy," he said.

But NDP member Sterling Belliveau said the fact there is no provision requiring supervisory drivers to be sober is a major hole that should be addressed before the bill is passed.

"That individual should be qualified to make split-second decisions and it's crucial when you have a junior or inexperienced driver," he said.

MacLellan said the government received legal advice that it could be problematic to get blood alcohol readings from a passenger. But he said the issue will be considered as the government ponders more changes to graduated licensing in the future.