British Columbia

Thinking about driving drunk or high this party season? It's now even more likely you'll lose your licence

Police powers to deal with drunk or drugged drivers increased this month, but officers say their most effective tool in B.C. is an immediate roadside prohibition.

Police powers increased this month as immediate roadside prohibitions remain effective tool, say police

A Vancouver police officer pulls over a car at a traffic stop in December 2017. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

It's the time of year for extra socializing and celebrating, but police are reminding revellers to play it safe when it comes to getting around or risk facing a range of penalties for impaired driving.

Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord, who is chair of the traffic safety committee with the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police, reviewed for CBC News what happens if you are pulled over by a police officer who suspects you may be driving after drinking or doing drugs.

"It's still a significant problem on our roadway," he said. ICBC stats show, on average each year, that 65 people die in fatal crashes where impairment was a contributing factor.

This month, police across Canada gained increased powers to keep impaired drivers — whether from alcohol or drugs — off roads.

As of Dec. 18, police can demand a breathalyzer test from any driver pulled over for violating traffic laws or at a check stop thanks to Bill C-46.

A woman blows into a breathalyzer at a roadside check in 2013. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Under the old law, officers had to have reasonable suspicion a driver had alcohol in their body to demand a breathalyzer test.

If the device reads WARN, that means a driver's breath contains a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of not less that 0.05. Police can seize your driver's licence and issue a driving prohibition from three to 30 days.

If the breathalyzer indicates a FAIL, it means you have a BAC of not less than 0.08, which will result in a driving prohibition for 90 days and potentially criminal charges for impaired driving.

A RCMP officer shows driver a fail result on a blood alcohol testing device at a roadside stop in Surrey in 2017. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Dubord, who's been a police officer for 35 years, says having no barrier to requesting a breathalyzer test is just the latest tool for enforcement against impaired driving that police have.

"So even if we didn't smell anything, we didn't have the bloodshot eyes, we didn't have slurred speech, we didn't have [the] sort of wobbly stance, we can still ask for a roadside sample," he said.

But Dubord says that perhaps the most useful tool police in B.C. have to get impaired drivers off roads is their ability, under provincial legislation, to confiscate driver's licences at the roadside without a breath test.

Laws for roadside prohibitions appeared in 2011 and have been amended several times since.

Both alcohol and drug-related 24-hour suspensions are issued under different parts of Section 215 of B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Act. (CBC)

If police have reasonable grounds to believe that your driving ability is affected by alcohol and/or drugs and you were in control of a vehicle, they can confiscate your licence for a 24-hour period on the spot.

Dubord says using provincial legislation, rather than the criminal code, allows police to have more discretion at the roadside.

"We're much better off to be able to take someone's licence away for a 24-hour period or their car away for a 24-hour period and prevent an accident because ultimately, that's what we're looking for," he said.

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