Impact of B.C. drunk driving laws explored in ICBC report raises questions

ICBC internal report and lawyer Michael Mulligan say the data to determine the impact of B.C.'s new drunk driving laws is problematic.

Report and lawyer Michael Mulligan say data to determine impact of new laws is problematic

British Columbia's impaired driving laws are the toughest in Canada but have also been controversial and battled in court. (Darryl Dyck/ Canadian Press)

A Victoria lawyer says an internal ICBC report he obtained through a freedom of information request shows significant issues with the province's assertion that its controversial impaired driving laws save lives. 

In 2010, B.C. imposed the toughest impaired driving laws in Canada, with roadside penalties including immediate driving prohibitions, vehicle impounding for up to 30 days, and steep fines. 

The report examines the number of fatal collisions before and after the laws were put in place. It suggests there was a reduction of 36 fatalities and $8.4 million in claims savings per year because of the laws. 

The province has long argued the laws save lives. Multiple legal challeges resulted in the province amending the legislation in 2012

"The laws are extremely effective. People understand that they must not drink and drive, that it's dangerous to people around them, that it's dangerous on our roads," said B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton.

"Our very significant penalties are a great deterrent to people drinking and driving."

Anton said the laws have been so effective, other provinces have expressed interest in adopting them.

'Misleading' information

But lawyer Michael Mulligan, who obtained the internal report, says the report itself outlines the problem with the data and the conclusions drawn from it.

"There's no baseline, so you can't figure out where you're coming from," he said. 

"Another [problem] is a statistical one. The police don't include any contributing factors in the information they collect. If you don't know what any of the contributing factors are, you can't draw conclusions about was alcohol impairment one of them or not."

The report also outlines since the laws were implemented province-wide, there's no adequate control data.

Mulligan says it took ICBC a year to provide the report after he filed his FOI request, even though he was legally entitled to receive it within 30 days. 

During that time, he says, decisions were made at Supreme Court based on the province's assertion that any limits on fairness imposed by the laws were justifiable given they saved lives. 

"There's still a legitimate debate about whether this thing is effective or ineffective," he said. "But to not release the information and to portray it as clearly working, which can't reasonably be said, is misleading."

With files from Chantelle Bellerichard

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