Stiffer penalties kick in this long weekend for people caught behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol content below the criminal limit.
The second wave of Alberta’s drunk driving legislation came into effect Saturday and will have drivers with a blood-alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08 slapped with immediate suspensions and seizures.
“We welcome any legislation that’s going to make the roads safer,” said Cpl. Don Murray with St. Albert RCMP Traffic Services.
On a first offence, drivers will be handed a three-day licence suspension and a three-day vehicle seizure. Until now, police officers could only issue 24-hour suspensions.
Longer suspensions and seizures will be issued for subsequent offences and drivers will also be required to take specified courses relating to impaired driving. Individuals with a blood-alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08 are not subject to criminal charges.
Murray said it is possible people will be hit with the immediate roadside sanctions as early as this weekend.
“We have performed some check stops … and there was a number of drivers that blew very close to the new limit,” he said. “People are just going to have to take a little extra care and do a little bit more planning ahead.”
He said the new sanctions likely mean longer roadside stops when an individual has a blood-alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08 because they can request a second test from a separate screening device.
Murray said officers can either carry a second device with them or call in another unit upon request.
Alberta roadways will see an increased presence of officers this weekend and in addition to enforcing the new drinking and driving sanctions, they will be targeting speeding, seat-belt use and distracted driving.
Rick Gardner, superintendent of the Alberta Traffic Sheriffs, warns motorists to not become a statistic this holiday weekend.
“Our goal is to drive home the message that drivers must think before getting behind the wheel, and to keep thinking once they hit the road,” he said.
According to Alberta Transportation, 569 people were killed from 2006 to 2010 in alcohol-related collisions, while more than 8,500 were injured.
“We want to encourage drivers to plan ahead and make the right decisions for themselves, for their passengers and for other people on the road,” said Ric McIver, transportation minister. “We can all do something about preventable traffic collisions.”
Advocates against drinking and driving stand behind the government’s second phase of legislation.
Leila Moulder, spokesperson for the Edmonton and area chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), said the organization wholeheartedly supports the legislation.
“The smallest amount of alcohol can have an adverse effect on your driving skill and your performance,” she said. “Any amount of alcohol obviously changes your abilities, so this is that first step and it will deter people and it will help.”
She said the increased suspensions and seizures will drive home the message that drinking and driving is unacceptable.
Moulder said she would ultimately like to see everyone separate drinking and driving, though she noted that this legislation is not aimed at social drinkers.
“It will not affect the average person to have a beer after work or a glass of wine with dinner,” she said. “This is for people who are having significant amounts of drinks.”
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission has an online calculator that estimates blood-alcohol content based on gender and weight. To estimate your blood-alcohol content, visit http://goo.gl/6be3S.
Commission spokesperson Michelle Hynes-Dawson said there are many factors affecting blood-alcohol content and the online tool is simply a resource to help individuals know their limit.
“If you’re drinking, don’t drive,” she said. “Follow the law and use your head and drink responsibly at all times.”
She said the organization hasn’t received much feedback from liquor retailers in response to how the new sanctions might impact business.
“Whether you work directly in this industry … or just you’re a person that’s out for something to eat after work on a Friday evening, I think everybody wants to make sure that people get home safe and they don’t want people drinking and driving,” Hynes-Dawson said.
The first phase of the legislation took effect July 1 and included tougher penalties for drivers blowing over the legal limit as well as for graduated drivers licence holders with alcohol in their system.
Preliminary numbers from Alberta Transportation show a total of 994 licence suspensions and 632 vehicle seizures issued to drivers with a blood-alcohol content over 0.08 between July and Aug. 23. There was an additional 112 suspensions and 73 vehicle seizures issued to graduated driver’s licence holders.