Deaths from impaired driving in B.C. have been cut in half since new drinking-driving regulations took effect last fall, says provincial Attorney General Barry Penner.

Penner said 22 people have been killed since the law was changed in September, while the five-year average for that period had been 45 deaths.

"To put it differently, there are 23 people in British Columbia that are alive today because of the new policies and new penalties," Penner said in Victoria late Thursday.

He said there's also been a drop during that period of between 75 and 80 per cent in the number of drinking and driving criminal charges laid.

The attorney general called it, "a pretty dramatic shift in public behaviour."

"Obviously it's still tragic that we have cases so often where innocent people are killed by drunk drivers," said Penner. "But at least, according to these statistics a significant number of British Columbians are getting the message again that you shouldn't be drinking and driving."

$4,000 fines and fees

The new regulations, which came into effect Sept. 20, dropped the legal blood alcohol limit to 0.05. Those caught over that level for the first time face an immediate three-day driving ban, $450 in penalties and fees, and three-days of vehicle impoundment.

Drivers found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher or who refuse to give a breath sample, get a three-month driving ban, have their vehicles impounded for 30 days and have to pay to have an ignition interlock system installed in their vehicles for one year after they resume driving.

Fines and fees for 0.08-related offences total nearly $4,000.

The changes caused consternation among civil libertarians and the bar and restaurant industry, leading the B.C. government to promise a review just two months after introducing the harsher laws.

But Penner said that given the results the new regulations are getting, any changes might now amount to "tweaks."