Proposed changes to Saskatchewan's impaired driving laws do not go far enough, says MADD Canada.
The proposed changes, announced in a Government press release this morning, include increased prohibitions for young drivers, as well as new sanctions for drivers over .08% BAC or with high BACs (generally considered to be .16% and higher). Missing from the proposed changes are any measures to address the problem of drivers with BACs in the warn range (.04% to .08%), which the Government's own Special Committee on Traffic Safety specifically recommended.
Even small amounts of alcohol can impair driving ability. That is why just about every jurisdiction in Canada has warn range sanctions in place to deter people from driving at those levels. Saskatchewan's current 24-hour licence suspension for drivers in the warn range is not an effective deterrent.
In contrast, British Columbia and Alberta have implemented warn range sanctions that include three-day licence suspensions and corresponding vehicle impoundments. The penalties escalate with subsequent infractions. The sanctions have helped reduce alcohol-related crash deaths by 46 per cent in both of those provinces.
"By ignoring their own Traffic Safety Committee's recommendation to strengthen warn range sanctions, the Government of Saskatchewan is ignoring an important impaired driving countermeasure that would go a long way to reducing crashes, deaths and injuries in this province," said Louise Twerdy, MADD Canada's Chapter Services Manager for the Western Region.
MADD Canada also urges the government to strengthen the changes being proposed for young drivers. While the recommendation to extend the .00% BAC restriction for young drivers to age 19 is an improvement over the existing law, MADD Canada believes the restriction should be extended to all drivers 21 years of age and younger, as is the law in Ontario and Quebec. Young people are disproportionately represented in impaired driving crashes. Extending that .00% BAC restriction encourages the separation of drinking from driving, and sets an important foundation for safe driving.
The proposal to make ignition interlocks mandatory for all drivers with high BACs also falls short. MADD Canada believes interlocks should be mandatory for all drivers convicted of a Criminal Code impaired driving offence.
"Ignition interlocks help modify the behaviours of drinking drivers by preventing them from driving their vehicles if their breath indicates a BAC over a pre-set limit," Twerdy explained. "Interlocks are a very effective tool in the effort to prevent impaired driving. It is hard to understand why the proposed mandatory interlock provision focuses only on offenders with BACs at double the legal limit. Ignition interlocks should be mandatory for all convicted impaired driving offenders."
Effective changes to Saskatchewan's impaired driving laws are crucial. Based on MADD Canada's review of impaired driving rates across Canada, Saskatchewan has the highest per capita rate of alcohol-related road crash deaths among the provinces. An estimated 9.76 people in every 100,000 people dies as a result of impaired driving in this province. That is significantly higher than the national average of 3.17 people in every 100,000. Furthermore, the province's fatality rate was higher in 2010 than it was in 2000.
"These changes will have some benefit but there is much more the province could be doing to address the problem of impaired driving," Twerdy said. "If we want to significantly reduce impaired driving crashes, deaths and injuries in Saskatchewan, we need to go further than the changes announced today."