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

Safety concerns dominate North Road meeting

Residents voice concern over Canfor’s proposal

Critics charge mayor has conflict of interest

Mayor discounts claims, says it’s about public safety

Finding a balance between economy and environment

For Pete Erickson, a happy medium is key

Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief and Council sign on for Coastal GasLink

Many factors looked at regarding proposed pipeline project

Hot, dry weather in forecast increases wildfire risk

BC Wildfire Service urges public to stay vigilant with fire

Police release video on how to ‘run, hide, fight’ if there’s an active shooter

Vancouver police offer video with input from E-Comm, BC EHS, Vancouver Fire and Rescue

Feds limit chinook fishery to help killer whale recovery

Chinook is main food source for only 76 southern residents killer whales left

B.C. mom who died just before daughter’s wedding wanted family to be happy: twin

Ann Wittenberg was pulled into the ocean while on a surf board in Tofino last weekend

Courtenay-Alberni MP calls for lifeguards at popular surf spot near Tofino

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is defending its decision to cancel the surf guard program.

Harvey Weinstein to surrender in sex misconduct probe: officials

Would be first criminal charge against Weinstein since scores of women came forward

Media are not an arm of the police, Vice lawyer tells Supreme Court hearing

Ben Makuch challenges Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that he must give materials for stories to RCMP

B.C. launches plan to tackle doctor shortage, emergency room congestion

John Horgan aims to set up regional primary care networks in a ‘team-based’ approach

Vancouver, Squamish pipeline challenges dismissed by court in B.C.

Justice Christopher Grauer ruled the province’s decision to issue the certificate was reasonable

Early learning programs for Indigenous kids get $30M boost

B.C. government to help expand Aboriginal Head Start Association programs with three-year funding

Most Read