The Canadian Medical Association has joined Mothers Against Drunk Driving in calling for the federal government to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for drunk driving.

Both the CMA and MADD want the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit to be reduced to 0.05 per cent from 0.08 per cent.

"Physicians see first hand the devastating impact of drinking and driving," said Dr. Henry Haddad, CMA president. "The injuries and deaths resulting from impaired driving must be recognized as a major public health concern."

CMA says the reduction of the BAC limit could result in a substantial reduction in total motor vehicle deaths.

MADD has released a review of federal legislation called "Taking Back Our Roads."

The report says drinking and driving is killing an average of 4.5 Canadians and injuring another 125 every day.

Other countries including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Australia have already lowered the legal BAC limit to 0.05 per cent.

Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have had 0.05 per cent roadside suspension laws in effect since the mid-1990s, while Nova Scotia's 0.05 per cent law took effect December 1999.

MADD's report says the lowering of limits has had a "positive effect on impaired driving crashes and fatalities" in those provinces.

Police to demand saliva, blood, urine sample

Both the doctors and MADD want federal rules to be changed so every province will have consistent laws in dealing with drunk drivers.

"The Federal Government has no excuse for delay. There are effective ways to reduce impaired driving in our country," says Louise Knox, head of MADD Canada.

MADD's approach includes several measures such as:

  • authorizing police to stop any vehicle at random to determine if the driver has a valid licence, is fit to drive, and is complying with the Criminal Code's impaired driving provisions
  • allowing police to demand a saliva, blood or urine sample if they have reasonable grounds to do so
  • making it an offence to refuse to give a saliva, blood or urine sample
  • streamlining the judicial process to prosecute drunk drivers
  • revising the Criminal Code to provide for tiered sentencing of impaired drivers based on a number of aggravating factors, prior offences, and the existence of a crash, injuries or deaths

" How safe can we feel knowing that a 200-pound man can drink almost six beers in two hours, get behind the wheel of his car, and likely not ever be criminally charged with impaired driving?" says Knox.

The pillar of MADD's report is the demand to lower the blood alcohol level. The report cites countries that have strict limits. In Sweden and Russia, it's 0.03 per cent while in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malaysia, Romania, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, there's zero tolerance.

In the U.S., at least 24 states have lowered their BAC to 0.08 per cent from 0.10 per cent. Many of those states experienced a decline in the number of accidents causing fatalities.

The report prepared by Robert Solomon, a law professor at the University of Western Ontario says blood alcohol levels between 0.03 and 0.05 per cent can affect the eye's ability to track movement, distance and depth.

The report says impaired driving is Canada's biggest cause of criminal death, claiming more than three times as many lives every year as all homicides. That's in addition to costing Canada billions in insurance and injury costs.