Drunk driving deaths decrease in B.C.

B.C.’s toughened roadside penalties on drinking drivers are being credited for cutting alcohol-related crash deaths.

An RCMP officer removes booze bottles from a vehicle at a holiday season roadside check. Police have been seizing vehicles and imposing other penalties for two years

An RCMP officer removes booze bottles from a vehicle at a holiday season roadside check. Police have been seizing vehicles and imposing other penalties for two years

B.C.’s toughened roadside penalties on drinking drivers are being credited for cutting alcohol-related crash deaths for a second straight year.

The province estimates 104 lives have been saved since the immediate roadside prohibition system took effect in September 2010.

That’s based on a drop from an average of 114 impaired fatalities prior to the new rules to 66 in the first full year of the IRP program and 58 in the second year.

Provincial government officials say the initiative has drastically changed British Columbian attitudes to drinking and getting behind the wheel.

“As you drive home late at night, the car coming toward you is far less likely to be piloted by an impaired driver than at any time in recent years,” Justice Minister Shirley Bond said.

She said B.C. is so far averaging a 46 per cent drop in drunk driving fatalities – better than a target of 35 per cent set in 2010 in honour of impaired driving victim Alexa Middelaer.

The roadside penalties can result in licence suspensions, vehicle impoundments and can cost drivers $600 to $4,000 in administrative penalties and remedial program costs.

The new approach has also meant a major shift away from criminal prosecution of suspected impaired drivers, which consumes much police investigation and court time.

A June survey of drivers in five communities (Vancouver, Abbotsford, Kelowna, Prince George and Saanich) found the lowest levels of drinking and driving ever recorded in a series of similar surveys dating back to 1995.

Nearly 60 per cent fewer drivers who agreed to be tested for the survey were at or over the 0.08 criminal blood-alcohol level than in past years, and there was a 44 per cent drop in those who tested in the warn range above 0.05.

Drivers aged 25 to 54 were most likely to say their behaviour has changed due to the new sanctions and those under 25 were most likely to say they never drink and drive.

The tests found no drivers aged 16 to 18 who had been drinking, which is thought to be a benefit of B.C.’s graduated licensing system that restricts novice and learners to a zero blood alcohol content.

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