N.B. toughens drunk driving laws

New Brunswick drivers will lose their licences for a week if they're caught with alcohol in their system starting on June 24, Public Safety Minister Robert Trevors said Friday.

New Brunswick drivers will lose their licences for a week, even if their blood alcohol level doesn't top the legal limit, starting on June 24,  Public Safety Minister Robert Trevors said Friday.

Any drivers caught with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 per cent to 0.08 per cent during roadside tests will lose their licences for seven days. The legal blood alcohol concentration limit in Canada is 0.08 per cent

The new penalties were a part of an amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act that was approved last fall.

Trevors said if citizens opt to drink and drive the consequences "will be immediate and severe."

"Our goal was to change the culture around drinking and driving in the province of New Brunswick," Trevors said in the legislature.

"Too many people think it is perfectly safe to have a few drinks before getting behind the wheel. This is not the case."

Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault endorsed the imposition of the new penalties on drunk driving.

"There are a lot of issues that we do agree on. When you talk about drinking and driving, it is totally unacceptable," Arseneault said.

"Anything we can do to discourage and bring forward policy initiatives or initiatives that discourage drinking and driving in the province of New Brunswick, we will always stand up and support the government."

Educate the public

Arseneault said more actions need to be taken to educate the public about the dangers associated with drinking and driving.

Looking on in the public gallery of the legislature were police chiefs and a family whose lives were shattered in 2006.

Kali O'Dell, 16, and her younger brother Jeremy survived a head-on collision with a drunk driver that took the lives of their parents.

She told reporters the tougher limits for blood alcohol may convince drivers they shouldn't risk losing their licences.

The O'Dell kids are now being raised by their grandparents, one of whom is the head of the Saint John chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Rick McNulty said the new rules should raise public awareness that drinking and driving is just not acceptable.

The New Brunswick RCMP said in December that deaths caused by drunk driving rose substantially in the province in 2010.

As of Dec. 8, 73 people had been killed on roads in the RCMP's jurisdiction. In almost 40 per cent of those fatalities, alcohol is believed to have been a factor.

That's a sharp increase from 2009 when there were 57 fatal motor vehicle accidents and alcohol was believed to have been a factor in 25 per cent of those.

Fifth charge laid

A 37-year-old man was killed last week in a head-on collision in Saint John.

The man charged in connection with the crash is now facing a fifth charge.

36-year-old Vincent Eric Reid was scheduled to have a bail hearing Friday.

Instead, the Crown laid a new charge of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

Reid was already charged with impaired driving causing the death of 37-year-old Troy Bridges, two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm and impaired driving.

He has not yet elected whether he wants to be tried by judge and jury or judge alone, or entered any pleas.

He has applied for legal aid and hopes to have a lawyer by the end of next week.

Reid, who was arrested Sunday after the collision near the intersection of Golden Grove Road and Hillcrest Road, remains in custody.

He'll return to court on June 6.