Quebec is bringing in a new measure for impaired drivers that will require repeat offenders to pass a breathalyzer every time they drive, in what one expert describes as among the toughest policies in the country.
Beginning Nov. 25, people found guilty of a second offence will only ever be allowed to drive vehicles equipped with an alcohol ignition interlock device, which prevents the car from starting until the driver has been blown into a mouthpiece that measures blood-alcohol concentration.
That’s in addition to existing penalties, which include licence suspension, vehicle seizure and criminal sanctions.
The CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada expressed support for the rule, which he described as “by far the most progressive in North America and globally”” when it comes to interlock devices and repeat offenders.
But Andrew Murie said the province will need to work hard to ensure it’s enforced, since many habitual offenders will look for ways to skirt the rules.
“The tougher the penalties become, (the more) they will find and try to find ways around complying with that legislation,” Murie said Monday in a phone interview.
Hubert Sacy, the director of the Quebec-based alcohol awareness group Educ’alcool, says studies have shown interlock devices are the best way to deal with repeat offenders because they protect both the driver and society at large by taking away the possibility of drinking and driving at a time when a person’s judgment is impaired.
However, he believes the cost to install and maintain the devices can be a problem, since many repeat offenders who struggle with alcohol are low-income.
“One thousand, $1,200, $1,500 per year is a lot of money when you are of limited means,” says Sacy, whose group is lobbying the provincial government to help bring down the costs.
Murie, on the other hand, doesn’t see cost as a problem. He points out that the cost of an interlock device is just a few dollars a day — less than the price of one drink.
“What happens is, for them to comply with the legislation and be able to operate their vehicle, they need to drink a lot less,” he said.
While drinking and driving has declined in recent years, Quebec’s automobile insurance board says about 100 people were killed and 220 were seriously injured in alcohol-related accidents between 2013 and 2017.
While both Murie and Sacy praised Quebec as a leader when it comes to interlock devices, both say the province lags behind other Canadian jurisdictions when it comes to impaired driving legislation.
Murie said Quebec is the only province that does not impose penalties on drivers caught with blood alcohol levels above 0.05 but below the legal limit of 0.08. He believes that measure is even more effective because it targets the entire population rather than a small segment.
“You’re going to save more lives with general deterrents than targeted programs,” he said.
Sacy, meanwhile, is hoping the province follows other jurisdictions in introducing mandatory training for restaurant and bar workers who serve alcohol, coupled with increased police street checks and enforcement.