Key elements of B.C.'s system of immediate roadside penalties for drunk driving have been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

B.C.’s tough drunk driving penalties upheld

Supreme Court of Canada rules B.C. can continue its immediate roadside punishment for impaired drivers

Canada’s top court has upheld B.C.’s tough system of roadside penalties for impaired drivers, including vehicle impoundments, stiff fines and immediate 90-day licence suspensions.

The Supreme Court of Canada handed down twin judgments Friday that back key elements of the provincial government’s policy after it was challenged by motorists.

Justices said there was “no doubt” automatic roadside prohibitions are within the province’s jurisdiction and a valid regulatory measure.

They rejected the argument of opponents that the penalties effectively create an offence that requires a right to a fair trial, not an instant decision by police after a failed blood-alcohol reading on a portable device.

The court found the province’s “pressing and substantial” goal of enacting the scheme “was not to oust the criminal law, but rather to prevent death and serious injury on public roads by removing drunk drivers and deterring impaired driving.”

Roadside penalties have largely supplanted criminal investigations and prosecutions for impaired driving in B.C. The amount of time and money expended on drunk driving cases in the courts and by police is down because of the nearly 70 per cent drop in impaired charges.

Police still pursue criminal charges in cases of injury or death due to drunk driving.

Defence lawyers have criticized the immediate roadside prohibitions as a de facto decriminalization of most cases of impaired driving.

Although drivers who are caught and punished at roadside face stiff sanctions, they do not usually risk an impaired driving conviction and criminal record.

Also before the courts was the constitutionality of the compulsory demand to provide a breath sample or face roadside penalties.

A majority of Supreme Court justices said the original 2010 provision did violate the Charter of Rights protection against unlawful search and seizure.

The province amended its law in 2012 to allow drivers who fail a roadside breath test to take a second test – the lowest of the two readings is used – and created a process for them to appeal driving prohibitions.

“Our belief is that the amendments our government made in June 2012 already address the constitutional issues noted in the court’s decision,” B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said.

It’s not yet clear if drivers penalized in the first two years of the program could be compensated.

Anton welcomed the ruling, adding immediate roadside prohibitions have been “very effective” and have saved an estimated 260 lives over the past five years.

“People are learning from them, they’re not drinking and driving as much,” Anton said. “As soon as you blow that warn or that fail you will be penalized. And that is what deters people from drinking and driving. That’s what keeps our roads safe.”

Defence lawyers intend to continue to challenge elements of the B.C. law that were not addressed by the top court.

About 18,000 roadside prohibitions are issued each year and about two per cent are successfully challenged through the review process.

Just Posted

Victoria Beer Week celebrates ‘five years of cheers’

Nine day craft beer festival delves into home brew workshops, food pairings, and a road trip to Sooke

Transit open houses on better Peninsula bus service

SIDNEY — Improved BC Transit services to West Sidney and to the… Continue reading

Victoria Orchid Society hosts 30th annual show

Orchids in full bloom March 3 and 4 at Our Lady of Fatima Hall

Free public lecture timed with scientific meeting in Sidney

Oceanographer Gregory Johnson speaks on the robots that monitor ocean temperature and salinity

Victoria playing host to regional farm market conference

Food industry experts to attend three-day networking event, which is open to the public

The 2018 B.C. Games wrap up in Kamloops

The B.C. Winter Games comes to a close after a weekend of fun and excitment

Student Voice: Phones in school a tool for learning or weapon of mass distraction?

Spectrum student questions role of smart phones in school

Library’s French collection gets $15,000 boost

Provincial grant adds extra French-language materials to Greater Victoria Public Library collection

Spectrum to stage Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Students having fun with laughs in Broadway musical

B.C. boosts support for former youth in government care

More support coming for rent, child care and health care while they go back to school

Saanich skater golden at B.C. Winter Games

Desiree Grubell takes gold, Emily Walzak silver in Special Olympics figure skating.

SMUS stages Catch Me If You Can, the true tale of a con-artist

Musical follows tales of impersonator Frank Abagnale Jr.

B.C. VIEWS: Our not-so-New Democrats don’t rock the boat

Finance Minister Carole James takes the wheel, steers similar course

Concert-goers unfazed by Hedley sexual misconduct allegations

Frontman Jacob Hoggard thanked fans from the ‘bottom of our hearts’ at Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre

Most Read