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Judge ponders benefits of alcohol-monitoring devices in all vehicles

WATCH ABOVE: A judge is questioning whether all vehicles should be equipped with interlock devices to curb impaired driving and reduce the backlog in Ontario’s court system. But as Caryn Lieberman reports, some argue he isn’t getting to the root of the problem.

TORONTO — Carolyn Swinson celebrated what would have been her son’s 50th birthday this month with family. Sadly he didn’t live past his 27th.

In February 1993, he was killed by a driver with a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit.

It was the second time someone close to Swinson died at the hands of an impaired driver.

“I lost my father in 1981,” she said, adding that he was killed in England. “And almost 12 years to the day my eldest son was killed by an impaired driver.”

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Today, Swinson advocates against impaired driving. She also sees the merits of devices in vehicles that would prevent a person from driving under the influence of alcohol.

In a decision last month, an Oshawa judge proposed equipping all cars in the province with interlock devices to curb impaired driving and clear up the court system.

Nearly 13,000 impaired driving cases made their way through Ontario courts last year.

That’s six per cent of the total number of criminal cases that were tried in provincial court.

“I suspect such an administrative response would result in a clear reduction in the carnage caused by impaired drivers,” Justice Graham Wakefield wrote.

“It would certainly reduce the number of Charter challenges to police conduct which now seem to be the Defence foundation of almost all drinking and driving trials.”

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Carolyn Swinson, having lost two loved ones to impaired driving, said the technology the Wakefield is referring to is cumbersome, but added she thinks he’s on the right track with his idea.

Brian Patterson of the Ontario Safety League isn’t so sure.

He says the Judge is missing the point by putting the focus on the court system, not on the families of the victims of impaired driving.

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“It’d be like having fingerprints for every 12-year-old, or DNA samples for everybody in the city,” Patterson said.

“It’s way too much on technology and not enough on the problem which is individual drivers.”

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Patterson is pushing for more education so that drivers simply don’t get behind the wheel while impaired.

Toronto Criminal Defence lawyer Antonietta Raviele previously worked as an Assistant Crown Attorney in smaller cities in Ontario where most of her caseload related to impaired driving.

Today, she also represents drivers who have been arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

Raviele notes that a drunk driving conviction affects a person’s life in a major way and so she says those are the types of charges people will fight tooth-and-nail.

As a result, it is true, the courts are filled with drunk driving trials.

“Less drinking and driving charges would equal less charges before the courts, would equal less charter applications and matters going to trial,” says Raviele.

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She said Wakefield has a point with his idea of including mass-produced interlock devices in all vehicles, but she doesn’t see it happening for a number of reasons — including the cost.

Global News reached out to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) to find out whether alcohol-monitoring devices in vehicles would lower auto insurance costs.

Due to the competitive nature of the industry, IBC said it is not able to speak to the dollar amount, but wrote in a statement that “the insurance industry has been a long-time advocate against drinking and driving and continues to look at research and initiatives that would help reduce impaired driving.”

Carolyn Swinson says it is just a matter of time until auto manufacturers complete the right type of technology to include in vehicles, so drivers cannot drive impaired.

She looks forward to that day, so another family does not have to experience the same loss that she has.

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