Review of B.C.'s impaired laws controversial

B.C. restaurant and bar owners are expressing relief at news that the provincial government is mulling changes to strict new impaired driving laws, but not everyone supports relaxing the enforcement.

B.C. restaurant and bar owners are expressing relief at news that the provincial government is mulling changes to strict new impaired driving laws, but not everyone supports relaxing the enforcement.

Solicitor General Rich Coleman said Monday his office would review the new penalties that came into effect in September in light of complaints from the food and beverage industry. The B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association estimates some businesses have seen sales drop between 15 and 30 per cent, and welcomed the news of the review.

"I think it's good for everyone that works in this industry," said Tim Murphy, general manager of the Shark Club in downtown Vancouver.

The new laws introduced tough roadside penalties for anyone caught with a blood alcohol level over .05, leading many people to conclude they cannot legally drive after one drink.

"I think if they're going to review it and look at it and they have a plan for it and it's done properly, it should be a good thing." 

No discretion required: MADD

Coleman also said police need to exercise more discretion and shouldn't always tow vehicles for people who blow over .05.

B.C. police forces have impounded more vehicles than they anticipated since new drinking and driving laws took effect. (CBC)

"[A vehicle] doesn't have to be towed under the legislation," said Coleman. "So, those are the things we need to look at. I've already spoken to law enforcement [and] they agree."

But Bob Rorison, the spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, says police should not be directed to exercise any leniency and should simply enforce the rules.

"There's no discretion. Just because you are a nice guy, and you can get off just because you are a good talker, or whatever it means, that the police can be convinced by your argument that you shouldn't impound their car.  

"That's why we ran into problems before, at any level, even at .08. The law is the law," he said.

Rorison said he understands why Coleman is reviewing the tough new drinking and driving law, but he's confident at the end of the review, the penalties will remain the same.

More education required

Coleman said he has not made up his mind about changing the law, but is planning a province-wide campaign to let residents know it's still OK to have a drink out on the town.

"I think it's a big education piece," Coleman said. "I think people don't understand they can still go in and have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and still be OK."

Under the new laws, drivers caught with a blood alcohol level in the warning range — between 0.05 and 0.08 per cent — face immediate seizure of their vehicle, a three-day driving ban and a $200 fine. A 90-day driving ban and a $500 fine is imposed on anyone who refuses a breathalyzer test or blows over .08.

The penalties escalate sharply for those who commit subsequent drinking and driving offences. Since the new rules went into effect police have been impounding more vehicles than anticipated.

Coleman said any changes could happen as early as next spring.