August 9, 2017 7:24 pm
Updated: August 9, 2017 8:00 pm

Maritimes’ sober driving advocates, police weigh in on legal alcohol limit reduction

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As Canada’s justice minister pushes to reduce the legal alcohol limit for licenced drivers, sober driving advocates and police in the Maritimes are calling the suggested change as one that would have positive impacts.

In a letter to provincial and territorial justice ministers dated last May, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould said she was seeking the Quebec minister’s views on lowering the criminal blood alcohol concentration (BAC). She suggested lowering it from the current 80 milligrams to 50 mg per 100 millilitres of blood.

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The federal minister said it would “make it easier to fight the danger posed by drivers who have consumed alcohol.”

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When the letter became public knowledge through media reports, some like Quebec’s restaurant lobby, said if such a law were passed, it would be a disaster for the restaurant industry.

But organizations like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) say the benefit from lowering the concentration is proven by other countries.

“We know that in countries where it has already been lowered, or it is .05, there have been fewer crashes, which means fewer deaths,” said Anissa Aldridge, MADD Canada’s Atlantic regional director.

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey was not available for an interview, but New Brunswick Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry said they are interested in learning more about Wilson-Raybould’s suggestions.

In an emailed statement, Landry said amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act passed last year would see “escalating sanctions” for short-term licence suspensions for those driving with a BAC between .05 and .08 per cent. The suspensions would also be recorded on the person’s driver abstract.

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“We expect these new measures will enter into force later this year,” Landry said.

He added the province wants to be part of the discussion with the federal justice minister and other jurisdictions before changes could be made.

According to RCMP statistics, there were 32 collisions involving serious injuries and six fatal collisions as a result of impaired driving over a three-month period between April and June of 2017.

RCMP Cpl. Dal Hutchinson said those numbers are due to a misunderstanding.

“Unfortunately, there are some people out there that feel it’s OK to have two, three drinks and spread it out over a period of time,” Hutchinson said.

READ MORE: B.C.’s tough drinking and driving laws reduce deaths by 52 per cent

“In Nova Scotia, far too often, our members respond to fatal or serious injury collisions on our highways where alcohol was a contributing factor.”

He said the RCMP embraces any opportunities that could improve highway safety.

Aldridge added that research has shown impairment can be found earlier than people think.

“We’ve seen now with research that actually, when you are at .08, you’re already showing signs of impairment,” Aldridge said. “So your co-ordination isn’t as strong, you’re having a harder time with steering, you’re not seeing objects.”

It’s not yet known when the issue will be discussed between Wilson-Raybould and her provincial and territorial counterparts, but it could come up as a topic when they next meet in early September.

With files from The Canadian Press

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