Canada does a lousy job of preventing impaired driving deaths compared to other countries and lowering legal blood alcohol limits would be a step toward improving that, according to the national director of legal policy for MADD Canada.
“We have a terrible record in terms of impaired driving,” said Robert Solomon, who is a professor of law at the University of Western Ontario in addition to being the legal policy director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Solomon made the comments as the federal government is considering lowering legal blood alcohol limits for drivers from the current .08 per cent to .05 per cent, which is the legal limit in many European countries and Australia.
A recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control ranked Canada first among 19 wealthy countries for percentage of traffic deaths linked to alcohol impairment. That study, said Solomon, is telling about the difference lowering legal blood alcohol rates makes.
Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is looking for support from provinces to lower the blood-alcohol limit for Canadian drivers. The current rate, she said, was established in 1969 and underestimated how many fatalities would result.
Still, impaired driving incidents are steadily declining in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, police reported 72,039 impaired driving incidents in 2015, representing a rate of 201 incidents per 100,000 population — a 30 year low.
Critics note that every province, except Quebec, already has administrative measures in place, including license suspension, for drivers caught with blood alcohol levels of .05 per cent. Lowering the legal limit in the criminal code would add a significant burden to the already-clogged court system where serious cases have been stayed because it took too long for them to get to trial, critics fear.
There are currently about 70,000 impaired cases a year in Canada, said Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt, each one takes at least a day. Lowering the limit would add significantly to that case load and would be a “disaster” for a jammed court system.
The Canadian restaurant industry, among the leading critics of the proposed change, fears it could devastate restaurants by discouraging people from going out.
“They don’t want to have a criminal record because they decided to have a glass of wine with their dinner,” said Joyce Reynolds of the Canadian Restaurant Association.
Others have suggested the lower legal blood alcohol limit is anti-alcohol, notions Solomon scoffs at.
“Give me a break,” he said. “This is a standard industry argument that is made every time there is a discussion. The simple fact is it is not true.”
Solomon notes that Germans consume 33 per cent more alcohol per capita but Canada’s alcohol-related crash deaths are almost five times as high as in Germany.
“We can do better.”
In general, men can consume larger amounts of alcohol than women before becoming impaired and smaller women can consume less than larger women.
According to MADD’s Solomon, a man weighing about 195 pounds could have three, or even four drinks on an empty stomach over two hours and still be below the .05 blood alcohol level cutoff. A woman weighing 130 pounds could consume two drinks in two hours on an empty stomach and be below .05 per cent blood alcohol level, he said. Food slows down the absorption of alcohol.
Solomon also countered the restaurant argument that the move would have no impact on those with very high blood alcohol levels who make up a significant proportion of drunk drivers.
When both Australia and Sweden decreased legal blood alcohol limits for drivers, the change had more impact on hardcore drunk drivers than social drinkers, he said.
“These arguments remind me of the tobacco industry. The industry attempts to defend its profits. I am not opposed to the alcohol industry, I just don’t want their profits to be built on perpetuating an unacceptable level of death and injury on our roads.”
Reference site: http://ottawasun.com/2017/08/11/tightening-drunk-driving-laws-would-put-canada-closer-to-many-other-countries-madd/wcm/3a94279b-11bd-46e7-875d-e55bdfa01349