Impaired driving legislation changes create unnecessary controversy
Annalisse Crosswell // Associate News Editor
If you’ve seen any social media lately you probably would have noticed a flurry of articles with titles along the lines of “Police can now ask for a breath test in your own home!” The new drinking-and-driving laws that prompted these articles came into effect Dec. 18 of last year, just in time for the holiday season. The changes cover impaired driving for both drugs and alcohol federally, and extend the police’s right to breathalyze individuals, leading to an unnecessary uproar from concerned citizens.
Social media users, true to their ways of minimally informed opinionated statements, have picked up some of the more inflammatory articles and many are enraged by the changes. The problem being that many of these articles have sensationalized the changes, leaving people under-informed of the reality of what’s new. People seem to be under the impression that police now have undue jurisdiction and seem to have much less concern for the loopholes that could be used by impaired drivers in the past.
Calgary police officer Constable Mark Smith took to Facebook to set people straight Jan. 11, with a short article outlining what was already legal for police and how the new legislation impacts this. In the article Smith repeatedly states that “…[police] could always investigate you for impaired driving if [they] found you sitting at a bar or at home after driving.” The change being that it is now illegal to be over the impairment level for a two-hour window after driving.
Smith’s breakdown of the legislative changes highlights that police can only follow up in this manner with reasonable suspicion and that the individual in question must have reasonable expectation that they will be tested within those two hours. There is still a very real need for evidence to show that an individual was in fact impaired at the time of driving.
The old anecdote, if it can be called that, of being able to go to a bar straight after a drunk driving incident and plead that stress drove you to drink after the fact, is now a thing of the past. Which is the kind of situation that will actually be impacted by the changes and really shouldn’t be cause for concern for the average citizen.
In reality the more controversial aspect of the changes is the new ability for police to demand breathalyzer tests on individuals they pull over without the former need for reasonable suspicion. Now police can test whether an individual is driving drunk just because they already have them pulled over. Given what we already know about the discriminatory practices of police, it is certainly a valid concern that minorities will be much more likely to be caught simply because of how much more often they are pulled over.
However, this change, like the other changes, is designed to stop loopholes like being able to disguise one’s breath in order to give an officer no suspicion of drunk driving. There are an enormous number of deaths caused by impaired drivers every year, and the focus here should really be on how much safer our roads could be with police allowed more jurisdiction to prevent or punish those that do drive under the influence.
None of us really want police to have any jurisdiction over our lives, but it has to be said that it is also true none of us want to lose loved ones to the asshole who decided to cross the median or wrap his car around a tree. As many social media users have already said, if you don’t drink and drive the changes shouldn’t impact your life at all – and if you do then there is little sympathy to be had.