Do you know Ontario’s impaired driving laws? Did you know that they could be changing soon? That’s right. Ontario may consider making significant changes to impaired driving legislation that could affect you — but not as you might expect.

Decriminalize Drunk Driving?

Ontarians might be surprised to learn that drunk driving has already been (partially) decriminalized in British Columbia for nearly a decade. Beginning in 2010, police officers were given the authority to decide whether to lay criminal charges or allow people caught driving under the influence to face much less severe penalties.

Drivers caught over the limit are given a choice by B.C. police officers: criminal charges or administrative sanctions. These sanctions include:

    • Drivers license is suspended for 90 days
    • Their vehicle is impounded for 30 days
    • They are given a $500 fine
    • They are enrolled in a responsible driver program, and;
    • They must participate in an ignition interlock program (which locks their car until they pass a breathalyzer).

The idea of decriminalizing drunk driving may seem counterintuitive at first, but it works on some of the same principles as decriminalizing marijuana. By focusing on education and rehabilitation, decriminalization could reduce recidivism. Administrative sanctions are also much faster and cheaper to process, which frees up greater police resources, courtrooms, and budgets for other tasks.

Decriminalized, But Tougher?

While critics may suggest that decriminalization is too lenient, supporters argue that the measures enacted by the BC provincial government are in many ways much tougher than those in Ontario. Having your car impounded physically prevents you from driving with a suspended license. In a CBC interview, Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada argued in favour of the sanctions, stating that “…not only can they not go to work, they can’t make any family commitments, they have a lot of [explaining] to do. So that swift, quick punishment really is a determining factor.”

Ultimately, supporters claim the laws lead to fewer drunk driving deaths, and the statistics seem to support it. According to the CBC, just a few years after British Columbia enacted the new law “the number of road deaths related to impaired driving had fallen dramatically.”

According to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, speaking to the CBC, “it was our goal when this program came in to reduce deaths by impaired drivers by 35 percent. It has in fact reduced deaths by 52 percent.”

No Plans in Place

Currently, there are no specifics in place for Ontario to partially decriminalize drunk driving like British Columbia, but the province may be exploring the idea. Alberta, meanwhile, is already planning on making similar changes to their laws.

Police are Not Judges

There are many concerns being raised on both sides of the issue. Some people believe that decriminalizing drunk driving would be a step in the wrong direction, while others believe the system is open to abuse and miscarriages of justice.

Speaking to the CBC about Alberta’s laws, Tim Foster, an expert in drunk driving laws said he was “offended that people will be automatically guilty without a trial or any meaningful appeal process” and cited a 2010 recall of more than 2,000 faulty roadside breathalyzers in British Columbia.

Opponents also argue that the laws are motivated by nothing more than the government trying to save money — at the cost of public safety and justice. Others have raised objections to the amount of discretion being handed over to the police. Afterall, the reason we have courts and judges is so police don’t make the arrest and hand out the sentence.

What do you think?

Such a serious issue is bound to raise some heated debate, what do you think? Do the ends justify the means? Could this law lead to a less just system in Ontario?

Impaired Driving & Personal Injury

Impaired driving or driving under the influence by alcohol or drugs is still illegal and a criminal offence. There are serious repercussions to drinking and driving, besides having a criminal record, it can lead to car accidents that can cause serious injuries or worse. Have you been hurt by an impaired driver? At Zayouna Law, we ensure your rights are protected and justice is served. Contact us or call 1-866-929-6862 to speak to our team of professional personal injury lawyers.