OTTAWA – The federal government is counting on stricter roadside testing — not a lower criminal blood alcohol limit — to stem the carnage caused by impaired driving.
In May, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould sent a letter to her provincial and territorial counterparts, asking for their views on lowering the criminal blood alcohol concentration level to 0.05 from 0.08.
Wilson-Raybould’s office now says there are no plans, at least for the moment, to introduce legislation to lower the limit.
A bill already before Parliament would revise the Criminal Code’s impaired driving regime, addressing both alcohol and drugs as the government legalizes recreational marijuana use.
Proposed mandatory alcohol screening measures in the bill would allow police to demand a breath sample from any driver they lawfully stop — a lower bar than the current threshold of suspicion the person has been drinking.
The roadside test would not by itself lead to a charge, but would prompt further investigation including more elaborate testing at the police station.
The aim is to help police catch more drivers at the wheel with more than the legal limit of alcohol in their bloodstream, the government says.
Research indicates that fatal crash risk doubles for drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 and triples for drivers with a concentration of 0.08, the government acknowledges.
But most provinces and territories have already set a provincial administrative limit of 0.05 for all drivers under the authority of their highway traffic laws, and some have an even lower limit of 0.04, Wilson-Raybould’s office says in a statement.
Certain provinces and territories have also initiated, or are exploring, innovative ways to reduce rates of impaired driving, the statement says.
“While we believe that lowering the federal limit would better respond to the danger posed by impaired drivers, by sending a strong message through the criminal law and by changing drivers’ behaviour, there are no plans at this stage to introduce legislation to do so, although this may still be a consideration in the future.”
Meantime, the statement adds, the minister is confident the measures in the bill, including mandatory alcohol screening, “will be highly effective in changing driver behaviour, thereby keeping the roads safe from the scourge of impaired driving.”