Alberta’s new, tougher impaired driving laws are in effect — here’s what you need to know

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Alberta’s new, tougher impaired driving laws are in effect — here’s what you need to know
WATCH: New, stricter penalties for impaired driving are now in effect in Alberta. As Adam MacVicar reports, the goal is to reduce impaired driving while easing strain on the court system. – Dec 1, 2020

Those caught driving under the influence in Alberta will face stricter penalties starting Dec. 1, 2020 — including steep fines and having their vehicle seized for up to 30 days.

Under the new impaired driving laws outlined in Bill 21, the Provincial Administrative Penalties Act, significant penalties will be handed out roadside including fines up to $2,000.

Repeat offenders will now face a mandatory education program and mandatory ignition interlock.

In the most serious cases, including impaired driving causing bodily harm or death, individuals will still receive criminal charges on top of the other penalties.

New zero-tolerance consequences for novice drivers and commercial drivers will also be introduced.

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While most first-time offenders won’t necessarily face a criminal charge, their cases would instead be handled outside of court through SafeRoads Alberta — a new adjudication branch that will allow drivers to pay their fees online, request more time to pay their penalty or dispute their vehicle seizure.

“We believe that it will not only reduce the amount of impaired drivers on the road, it will also free up valuable court time and police time,” Transportation Minister Ric McIver said. “This is a good day.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s new, tougher impaired driving rules in effect Dec. 1'
Alberta’s new, tougher impaired driving rules in effect Dec. 1

The new penalties have also received praise from advocacy group MADD Canada, which said the approach should be to change driver behaviour rather than harsh punishments after the fact.

“What deters impaired drivers from driving impaired is the likelihood of getting caught, and so the deterrant that is quick and fast is what makes them rethink their decision of driving impaired,” MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie said. “That’s the bottom line for us, it’s not about punishing the impaired driver, it’s about people in the first place not driving impaired.”

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According to Murie, Alberta’s system is now in line with laws in B.C. and Manitoba, where MADD Canada said impaired driving incidents have gone down since the new measures were put in place.

However, not all victims’ advocates are in favour of the province moving to the new model.

Sheri Arsenault has fought for tougher impaired driving legislation for eight years after her 18-year-old son Bradley and two of his friends – Thaddeus Lake and Kole Novak – were killed by a drunk driver.

“It’s not tough enough, and that’s why this crime continues to happen,” Arsenault said Tuesday. “To take a serious crime and just zing it down to administrative fines is not the way to go.”

“To me, it tells Albertans, it sends a message that impaired driving is not a serious crime.”

The president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, Dale McFee, said he applauds the new rules —which are modelled after what’s been done in British Columbia for years.

“This proven system of addressing impaired driving will reduce the time our officers and the courts must commit to dealing with these serious offences while still holding impaired drivers accountable,” McFee said.

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“This allows our officers to spend more time focusing on the community to reduce crime and victimization. In addition, it has been shown that dealing with impairment with sanctions to the subject’s vehicle in the first instance drastically reduces future offences.”

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