British Columbia’s Strict Drunk Driving Law

In 2010, British Columbia’s drunk driving laws were harshened in response to drunk driving-related deaths reaching its peak. The blood alcohol legal limit to drive without consequences was reduced, and police were given on-site power that was not previously allotted. Like the in the United States, the legal blood alcohol limit remains at .08 for criminal law in British Columbia. However, new law gives police the authority to suspend the licence and impound the car of a person found with a .05-.079 blood alcohol level at the site of the breathalyzer without issuing any criminal charges. Two alcoholic beverages for a woman or three for a man is enough to get punished if caught driving in British Columbia.

Too harsh?

Many were shocked when the new law was called into effect; they argued it gave police too much authority, and it unjustly punished those who were not legally drunk. Some business owners were especially opposed to the law. For instance, restaurant owner Mark Roberts told PBS about his skepticism; “We thought that there was a lot of unknowns about what that meant.  How many drinks could people have?  There was very little information about how that was going to be enforced, how it was going to impact what people could drink. We were creating non-alcoholic drinks to make up for the lost sales.  It was a lot of fear, a lot of unknowns, and some real changes in people’s behavior.” Despite the changes citizens of British Columbia were forced to adapt to, the Canadian province saw a fifty-five percent decrease in drunk driving related deaths in just two years of adopting the law–such a steep fall that was almost deemed a fluke by experts.

Why such a dive in drunk driving-related deaths?

It appears that British Columbia’s new law made an impact on citizen behavior. Tim Stockwell, an alcohol policy expert at the University of Victoria explained the law’s effectiveness to PBS,  “So it was quite well-publicized.  And for deterrence to work it’s as much about knowing and expecting there being a consequence than it actually be likely.  People’s perception that they were likely to be caught was probably way higher than it actually was.” Apparently, placing fear of getting caught in the minds of citizens is key in this type of deterrence. Stockwell continues to explain that the immediate and automatic consequence of being caught with at least a .05 blood alcohol level also plays a part in this law’s effectiveness. Stockwell says, “ It’s more important that [consequences] are certain, and that they are swift.  So on the spot, losing your car for three days, a week, that’s severe enough.” Punishment for drunk driving begins immediately through car impoundment and license suspension–a penance that directly affects the daily life of the accused. These immediate consequences, in addition to additional fines, has persuaded drivers in British Columbia to simply not drink and drive at all.

Should the US adopt a law like this?

There is no doubt that this strict law successfully improved the safety of British Columbia’s roadways. However, what works in one country might not in another. Many believe the United States’ emphasis on personal liberty and presumption of innocence will never allow a law like this to go into effect. They believe that if the US adopted a similar law, it would become a ‘police state’ or ‘nanny state’ providing law enforcement with excess power and infringing on fundamental American freedoms (such as having a glass of wine with dinner). On the other hand, some believe borrowing this law from British Columbia would truly benefit American safety, reducing the number of drunk drivers through the constant enforcement of strict laws with immediate consequences. Bottom line: Though a 55% reduction in fatalities is appealing, a law like this will most likely not be adopted to the American free state anytime soon.

Kristen Valek blogs for Alamo Injury Attorneys, an established personal injury and accident law firm based in San Antonio, Texas. Kristen thinks the effectiveness of British Columbia’s law is truly amazing.

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