Appeal court upholds roadside suspensions

Steep fines and vehicle seizures within province's rights, Attorney General says it reinforces road safety efforts

Attorney General Suzanne Anton

VICTORIA – B.C. police will continue to impose 90-day driving suspensions and seize vehicles of drivers who fail a breath alcohol test, after a constitutional challenge was turned away Monday by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

“It’s a matter of public safety on our roads, and so we’re carrying on with the immediate roadside prohibition program,” Attorney General Suzanne Anton said Monday.

The law was challenged by six drivers who had either blown a “fail” reading on a roadside blood alcohol screening device, or refused to blow. The court found that the roadside suspensions do not supplant the Criminal Code, where police still have the option of laying impaired driving charges.

“The legislation does not create a criminal or quasi-criminal proceeding, nor does it lead to true penal consequences” when it allows licence suspensions, penalties and impound fees, three appeal court justices agreed.

The “immediate roadside prohibition” program took effect in 2010, replacing most impaired driving charges with administrative penalties, including a three-day driving ban and a $200 administrative fee for those who register between 0.05 and 0.08, if the police officer has reason to believe the driver is impaired.

For those who blow in the “impaired” range of 0.08 or higher, police have the option of imposing a 90-day driving ban, a $500 penalty and impounding the vehicle for 30 days instead of laying a charge. Towing and impounding a vehicle can result in a $700 bill, and a $1,400 mandatory “responsible driver program” may also be required before the driver’s licence is returned.

After an initial court challenge, the law was amended to require police to offer a second roadside test to anyone who fails, and to advise drivers they can appeal their suspension to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.