UPDATE: B.C. suspends its strictest roadside penalties

The toughest of B.C.'s new impaired driving penalties infringe people's constitutional rights, a judge has ruled.

Police in B.C. have broad powers to impound vehicles for 30 days and impose steep penalties on drivers who fail a roadside breath test for alcohol.

VICTORIA – Police in B.C. won’t be imposing their toughest roadside penalties for impaired driving  until they give accused drivers a way to appeal results of a failed breath test.

Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond announced the change Wednesday after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that the most severe of B.C.’s new impaired driving penalties infringe people’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

Ruling on a challenge to the new roadside penalties, Justice Jon Sigurdson said the increased roadside penalties for blowing in the “warn” range of blood alcohol, from 0.05 to 0.08 per cent, are permissible.

But drivers who who blow in the “fail” range above 0.08 should have a chance to challenge the decision if their vehicles are impounded for 30 days and they face thousands of dollars in administrative penalties.

Bond said the court ruling means the B.C. government needs to amend its year-old impaired law to give drivers who exceed 0.08 on the roadside screening device a chance to appeal that reading.

Until that is done, “the circumstances for those in the ‘fail’ range will revert to what was previously in place,” Bond said. “Police will have the option of determining whether or not a criminal charge is warranted, and in that case you could face criminal charges and a 90-day administrative driving prohibition.”

Sigurdson ruled that B.C. is within its rights to impose the “warn” penalties. A blood alcohol reading in the “warn” range can result in a three-day driving ban, a $200 administrative penalty and another $250 fee to have a driver’s licence reinstated. Drivers may also have their car impounded for three days and be billed for towing and storage.

For roadside readings of 0.08 per cent or higher, police have been imposing a 90-day driving ban, a $500 fine and impounding the vehicle for 30 days. That suspension can cost a driver $3,750, including $700 for towing and storage and $1,420 to take a mandatory “responsible driver” course.

Sigurdson did not immediately strike down the new penalties, but asked for submissions from the province and the driver who challenged the penalties to determine what comes next.

Last week Premier Christy Clark and Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond celebrated the results of the new roadside penalties, a 40 per cent decline in alcohol-related deaths in the first year.

The ruling comes as B.C. launches its annual Christmas CounterAttack campaign, with increased roadblocks across the province to look for impaired drivers.

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