Impaired driving is a societal scourge that cuts off lives prematurely and devastates families. I do not know anyone, no matter what their political leanings, who doesn’t want to see more done to end this entirely preventable cause of death and injury.
However, as with most problems that governments face, impaired driving must be dealt with carefully and logically if we are to find a solution that actually saves lives while upholding individual rights and freedoms.
Premier Alison Redford surprised many Albertans when she abruptly announced her plans to reduce drunk driving by targeting drivers who are found to have a blood alcohol level (BAC) between .05 and .08 as outlined in Bill 26, The Traffic Safety Amendment Act.
As stated, all Albertans agree that much more needs to be done to tackle drunk driving in this province, especially after the recent tragedies in Grande Prairie and in Calgary where alcohol played a role in the fatalities of several innocent victims.
To reduce tragedies like these, it is the Wildrose Party’s position that we need to do two things. First, and most importantly, we need to increase enforcement of existing impaired driving laws by significantly increasing the amount of Checkstops on our roads. For example, a single part time Checkstop unit for all the City of Calgary is woefully inadequate for a City approaching 1.2 million people. Sadly, it seems one is more likely to see a Sasquatch in Alberta than a Checkstop at any time other than Christmas. This is not the fault of police – they have finite resources and infinite problems to deal with. If the Provincial Government wants to target this problem, they need to provide increased funding to our police specifically for more Checkstops. The PCs can find this money without increasing their massive deficit by cutting silly measures such as $2 billion for carbon capture and storage or the $300 million being spent on new MLA offices!
Secondly, the Wildrose proposes significantly increasing administrative penalties for those who are over the .08 BAC limit, upholding the Charter right of accused individuals being innocent until proven guilty, and doing a much better job ensuring criminal penalties are properly enforced.
Premier Redford’s Bill 26 falls flat on all of these fronts. It diverts valuable police resources away from where they should be focused by targeting the wrong group of drivers below .08. It treats this group of law abiding individuals guilty until proven innocent by seizing their vehicle and suspending their license for long periods of time before the opportunity of going before a judge is permitted. And it fails to take into consideration that the overwhelming majority of alcohol related fatalities come from drivers who have a BAC over the legal limit of .08, by doing nothing to increase penalties and enforcement on this group of people.
According to a 2008 report prepared for Transport Canada, 61.3% of fatalities were caused by drivers without any BAC (mostly caused by speeding or other unsafe driving practices), 22.6% of fatalities were caused by drivers at more than double the legal BAC limit of .08, 10.3% of fatalities were caused by those in the .08 to .16 BAC range, 3.6% by individuals with a BAC between .01 to .05, and only 2.2% of all fatal vehicular accidents were caused by drivers who were found to be in the .05 to .08 BAC range.
Also important to recognize are the unintended consequences of Bill 26. The just dissolved Federal Liberal gun registry was created in the wake of a shooting tragedy in the name of increased public safety; however, it ended up doing nothing to increase public safety and instead cost taxpayers billions of dollars and trampled on the rights of law abiding gun owners.
Similarly, Bill 26 is unlikely to save lives (in fact, it may have the opposite effect if police resources are taken away from apprehending drivers over the .08 limit). Additionally, it will almost certainly have a negative impact on those who rely on Alberta’s hospitality industry for their livelihood, while unnecessarily restricting the freedom of law-abiding Albertans to enjoy a glass of wine over a restaurant dinner, or a beer with friends after a long week at work. Again, these are not the folks that are killing and maiming people on our streets.
The Wildrose believes in keeping Alberta’s roads safe and preventing the loss of Albertans’ lives in impaired driving collisions. We are committed to policies that aim to dramatically increase enforcement for laws that are already on the books to ensure that drunk drivers are kept off the road and have proposed amendments to Bill 26 that will beef up penalties to punish repeat offenders over the legal limit.
Unfortunately, the current government has chosen to ram through this significant piece of legislation in a very short session with limited consultation and debate. New and impactful legislation like this should be thoroughly assessed by an all party committee so that Albertans have the time needed to properly assess and give feedback to their elected representatives; such a process would result in legislation that will actually save lives.