Drunk drivers in Manitoba face new fines, vehicle impoundment under tough new penalties
Blood alcohol level in 'warning' range, between .05 and .08, will mandate new sanctions
Manitobans caught driving in a "warning" zone near the legal limit will face harsh new sanctions, including fines and vehicle impoundment, according to new legislation proposed Thursday.
Under amendments introduced to the Highway Traffic Act at the Manitoba Legislature, a driver who registers a "warning" on an approved screening device — a blood alcohol level of between .05 and .08 — would have their vehicle immediately impounded for three days for a first offence and up to a month for a third offence.
The driver would also face a new fine of at least $200 for a first offence, rising to at least $400 by the third infraction.
If nabbed a third time, the driver will have an ignition interlock on their vehicle for a year.
Vehicle impoundment is that one thing that will make people change their behaviours.- MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie
MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie said he's overjoyed that harsher penalties are on the way.
"In a nutshell, this is an amazing day what's being accomplished here," he said.
Manitoba intends to follow suit with British Columbia, which introduced similar sanctions in 2010 and saw fatalities involving drunk drivers fall by 50 per cent.
"Research shows that the greatest deterrence in reducing impaired driving is making sure the sanctions and the penalties are immediate, which happens at roadside, and they include vehicle impoundment," Murie said. "Vehicle impoundment is that one thing that will make people change their behaviours."
The new penalties for drivers in the "warning" range would not result in criminal charges, but would be in addition to existing licence suspensions and other sanctions.
The province says that adding up all the existing and new penalties, drivers in the .05 to .08 range would end up paying at least $2,600 on a first offence, and about $3,200 for a third or subsequent offence.
Breathalyzer not automatic
Screening tests for impairment will continue to be conducted roadside using an approved screening device, which are less exact than a breathalyzer but indicate whether a driver is in the range of blowing over the legal alcohol limit of .08, or has done so.
A driver who fails the test will no longer receive an automatic breathalyzer demand if it is their first offence and no bodily harm or injuries resulted.
Police would, in those cases, have the option of forgoing the breathalyzer test and possible criminal charge to instead issue new automatic penalties: a fine of at least $500 and a mandatory one-year ignition lock.
The province will give police officers the authority to pick the approach that's most suitable.
"If you look at the penalties, aside from the criminal conviction, they're relatively similar," said Mark Fisher, chief superintendent of the RCMP in Manitoba.
The newly proposed provincial sanctions are on top of an existing 90-day licence suspension, 30-day vehicle impoundment, mandatory Addictions Foundation of Manitoba assessment or a remedial program for first-time drunk drivers blowing over the .08 legal limit.
Drivers will also receive 10 demerit points from Manitoba Public Insurance, rather than the current consequence of five demerits.
Drunk drivers not getting the message
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said 28 Manitobans have lost their lives this year because of the actions of a drunk driver.
"We are here today because there are still too many people who haven't got the message about drunk driving," he said.
The hope is the changes will significantly cut the time police spend testing drivers — from as much as four hours to conduct a breathalyzer test, down to about 30 minutes for a test using a roadside screening device — and ensure police are spending more time enforcing laws, Cullen said.
Drivers who want to appeal the immediate roadside penalties can apply to the registrar of motor vehicles to evaluate the decision. A successful review would terminate all sanctions.
Of the 73 people killed and 442 people seriously injured in traffic collisions on Manitoba roads in 2017, impaired driving accounted for 32 per cent of those killed and six per cent of those injured, the province said.
In B.C., a similar law survived a court challenge earlier this year that argued it was unconstitutional to force the accused to prove a flaw or gap in police evidence if they want to appeal a ban.
With files from Sean Kavanagh