Drive drunk twice in Quebec, get ignition breathalyzer for life

Starting Monday, Quebec motorists convicted of drunk driving twice in 10 years will have to blow into a breathalyzer every time they start a car — for the rest of their lives.

New rule is being hailed as the 'toughest interlock legislation' in the country by MADD Canada's CEO

Ignition interlock devices require drivers to blow into a tube before starting their car. It won't start if the driver’s estimated blood alcohol concentration is too high. (CBC)

Starting Monday, Quebec motorists convicted of drunk driving twice in 10 years will have to blow into a breathalyzer every time they start a car — for the rest of their lives.

Their licence will be branded so any intercepting police officer will know to inspect the driver's ignition for an interlock device — a piece of equipment that prevents the car from starting if the driver's estimated blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit.

Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada, commended the province for the change.

"When you compare it to other provinces, nobody else has done anything like this," Murie said. "It would be the toughest interlock legislation, not only in Canada but globally."

The new regulation was added to the province's Highway Safety Code when it was overhauled in 2018 and goes into effect just in time for the holidays.

No device, no drive

A driver with a restricted licence cannot use any car that does not have the device installed, said Mario Vaillancourt, spokesperson for Quebec's automobile insurance board (SAAQ).

Getting caught without an interlock device will lead to a three-month licence suspension and a $1,500 fine, he said.

And the vehicle they're driving will be impounded for 30 days or more, depending on the circumstances.

In addition to the other penalties that come with a second conviction, this licence restriction includes an immediate seizure of the vehicle and impoundment for 90 days, imprisonment and a licence suspension for at least two years.

Previously, interlock devices could be installed for life on a second offence if there were aggravating factors such as refusal to co-operate with police or if the motorist's blood alcohol level was double the legal limit, Vaillancourt explained. 

Third-time offenders also faced the lifetime restriction.

'Too many deaths each year'

Quebec's Ministry of Transport says from 2013 to 2017, alcohol-related crashes killed an average of 100 people annually. That's on top of the approximately 220 serious injuries and 1,800 minor injuries.

"Although road safety is improving in Quebec, accidents caused by drinking and driving are still causing too many deaths each year," Transport Minister François Bonnardel said in a statement Thursday.

He said this legislation sends a clear message to motorists and repeat offenders that "driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs is unacceptable."

MADD Canada's Murie said Quebec's next challenge is to ensure the new legislation is enforced.

"Most of the time, people who get this penalty don't install the device in the first place," said Murie, noting unlicensed and uninsured drivers often get behind the wheel regardless of their restrictions.

"You just have to have tactics to deal with those people who are noncompliant."

Murie said the interlock devices have proven to be one of the best weapons against impaired driving, especially with repeat offenders. 

He said there needs to be a high level of enforcement by the Transport Ministry, the courts and police to ensure that repeat offenders are installing the devices.

Check licence before lending car

People can also help by double-checking anybody's licence before lending them their car, said Theresa-Anne Kramer, a spokesperson for MADD Montreal.

The SAAQ says visually checking a driver's licence may not be enough, as a hard copy does not always provide up-to-date information. The agency reminds people that their car could be impounded for 30 days or more if the driver breaks the law.

For a fee of $1.75, the SAAQ will verify a licence through its website.

"That would be a wise thing to always do whenever you lend your car, even to your best friend," said Kramer. 

"That person might have kept it secret that they have an alcohol interlock in their own vehicle. Family members might not be aware of it. Friends might not be aware of it."