Saanich police Sgt. Steve Eassie holds an approved screening device

When drinking and driving hits the wallet

Province makes drinking and driving prohibitively expensive and inconvenient in a bid to change driver behaviour

Last call – and your last beer of the night – has come and gone. Was that your third or fourth drink?

You walk to your car and try to gauge your vertigo with each step. You’re off-kilter, but not too much. “I’m alright to drive,” you tell yourself.

As you crest the hill on Douglas Street you’re met with the flashing red and blue lights of a police checkpoint. This is when you start to panic, only now regretting your decision to drink and drive.

“Good evening. Have you consumed any alcohol in the previous six hours?” the officer says.

It doesn’t matter what you say. The officer smells the alcohol on your breath the moment you answer. You’re instructed to pull over and get out of your car.

Your heart races as you watch the officer affix a fresh mouthpiece to the handheld Alco-Sensor device; you know full well you shouldn’t have tried driving home.

You take a deep breath in and let a long, steady stream of air out of your mouth and into the intoximeter. “Fail” appears on the device’s digital screen. Tonight, your breath alcohol concentration is found to be at least 0.1 per cent. (The Criminal Code blood alcohol content – BAC – is .08 per cent.)

The officer offers, and you accept, to issue a second breath test on a different device. Once again, you fail. Based on the “fail” reading, he issues you a 90-day immediate roadside prohibition (IRP).

Starting now, your driver’s licence is revoked for 90 days, and your car is impounded for 30. You’re also now mandated to participate in the responsible driver education program and have an ignition interlock device installed (and monitored) for 12 months on any vehicle you drive.

The IRP program was implemented in B.C. in September 2010 by the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles to tighten the province’s drunk driving laws.

The IRP program gives law enforcement officials an administrative option to deal with drunk drivers, rather than charging someone with impaired driving under the Criminal Code.

“This was all about saving lives and preventing injuries. That’s what the program’s focus was and what it continues to be,” said Steve Martin, B.C.’s Superintendent of Motor Vehicles. “We wanted (a program) that would provide enough disincentive to drivers to have an impact on their behaviour.”

These disincentives, he says, come in the form of immediate, remedial and financial penalties. From towing away your car to having an interlock device, each penalty comes at a steep cost.

Add on the administrative sanctions and the fees to get your licence back, and even a first-time offender will be out-of-pocket at least $4,040. Drivers with multiple infractions on their licence would also face increased insurance premiums from ICBC.

“There’s a high percentage of B.C. drivers that are aware of these sanctions, and I think the behavioural change that we’re seeing further backs that up,” Martin said. “We’re seeing sustained fatality reductions in the 45-per-cent-plus range. And that’s just unprecedented. That’s not been achieved in the period of time anywhere in the world that I know of.”

While a minimum $4,040 in disincentives may seem harsh, Saanich police Sgt. Steve Eassie puts that number in perspective.

“Consider if they had received a Criminal Code impaired driving charge and are found guilty. That comes with a fine, a minimum one-year driving prohibition, there’s lawyer fees and now they have a criminal record for life,” he said.

Additionally, convicted impaired drivers can be ordered to participate in and pay for one or both the responsible driver program and ignition interlock program, and could also face jail time.

“The administrative IRP program seems pretty punitive, but it’s not when you compare it to the repercussions it could have on the individual if they went through the court system,” Eassie said.

IRP system saves time, saves money

One of the most noticeable benefits of the IRP program for police is that it saves time.

“Before IRP, cops just didn’t have the time to properly process impaired drivers – one impaired driver would take an officer off the street for four hours on a busy shift,” Martin said.

“So with the IRP tool, police can process drivers efficiently at the roadside and not have to go back to the police station for hours on end. Therefore they’re actually able to be out on the street and touch more impaired drivers.”

Statistics show law enforcement officials in B.C. are taking full advantage of the streamlined program.

Between September 2010 and November 2012, officers handed out 40,034 IRPs in B.C. More than half of those (22,164) were as a result of “fail” readings. (There are also shorter, less punitive IRPs issued for having a breath alcohol concentration between .06 and .099 per cent, known as the “warn” range.)

The number of impaired driving cases to go through B.C.’s court system dropped from 7,225 in 2010 to 6,691 in 2011. Between January and November 2012, just 3,898 impaired driving cases went to court.

“The immediate roadside prohibition program has seen a reduction in the number of drinking and driving cases going to court,” said a spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice, on behalf of B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch.

“While it will take time for the program’s full effects to be known, considering the number of concluded impaired driving court cases over the last three years does give some indication that the overall number of cases is dropping.”

The cost of the interlock program starts at $1,730 for the year, while the responsible driver program – which consists of either one eight-hour educational session or 16 hours of group counselling – costs $880.

Martin says the IRP program is essentially cost-neutral for the province. For each “fail” reading, the province receives $750 in administrative penalties and licensing fees, and $150 to monitor the interlock program – all of which is used to cover the cost of keeping the program staffed and operational.

Under the IRP program, roadside screening devices are set to err on the side of the driver, not the police. (The device’s “warn” range activates at .06 per cent, as opposed to the legislation’s imposed .05 per cent. The “fail” range activates at 0.1 per cent, as opposed to .08 per cent.)

“Say they blow .08 on a breath screening device, their blood alcohol is 10 to 20 per cent higher than that,” Martin said. “We’re giving drivers a real significant cushion because the breath alcohol gives a lower reading than the actual blood alcohol would be.”

As you stand in the chilly January air – now car-less and unlicensed – your mind wanders to a moment some 30 minutes ago – even before you made the poor decision the get behind the wheel. You think back to settling up with the bartender. Few people would imagine a $40 tab for the night would turn into a $4,000 bill.

“One does not have the right to drive, nor drink. If planning on doing one, leave out the other,” said Saanich police Const. Matt Cawsey, who spent five years on Saanich’s traffic safety unit. “We realize alternative transport can be inconvenient or limited in certain areas, but (drinking and driving) is just not worth it.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

Cost of drinking and driving

Fail – blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.1 per cent, or for refusing to provide a breath sample)

– $4,040 and 90-day IRP

Warn – BAC between .06 and .099 per cent

 

1st incident: $600; three-day IRP

2nd incident (within five years): $780; seven-day IRP

3rd incident (within five years): $3,940; 30-day IRP

 

 

 

 

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