Changes coming to Alberta impaired driving laws

(Photo by Aron Diaz)

Changes are coming to Alberta impaired driving laws after a ruling by the Alberta Court of Appeal declared parts of the province’s current sanctions are unconstitutional.

“Any changes to the Traffic Safety Act are always made with public safety in mind. It is essential that Albertans make responsible choices and do not drive while impaired by any substance.

“Laws that govern driving in Alberta are designed to give police the tools they need to get impaired drivers off the road and help to keep roads as safe as possible for all road users,” said Julie Archer, press secretary for the office of the Minister of Transportation.

The top provincial court ruled that the current legislation, Bill 29, was unconstitutional.

Bill 29 states that drivers who are found to be driving over the legal alcohol limit, based on a breathalyzer test, would have their license suspended for three months. A license can be returned if one joins the interlock program for one year, if not, the license will not be returned for one year.

The current provincial government has been given one year to introduce the recommended changes to the legislation.

The suspension of licenses was viewed as unconstitutional because it was linked to the outcome of an accused impaired driver’s court case.


“Laws that govern driving in Alberta are designed to give police the tools they need to get impaired drivers off the road and help to keep roads as safe as possible for all road users.”

The province will potentially base new legislation on the model in British Columbia, which focuses on drivers receiving fines, roadside towing and police issued license suspensions in place of criminal charges.

Traffic Safety Act are going to look like. Right now, Alberta Transportation and other ministries are looking at options and talking to key stakeholder groups, including law enforcement. We expect to develop options for consideration during 2018,” said Archer.

The key issue with Bill 29, highlighted by the court, is the fact that the current legislation links administrative sanctions with criminal charges, without the bill mentioning criminal charges.
The specific issue that has changed was the suspending of alleged drunk drivers’ licenses until the charges are resolved in court.

“It’s a decriminalization of impaired driving, as far as potential impaired drivers go it’s great for them,” said Brandon Tralenberg, a lawyer with the DUI Lawyer Network.

“One of the main concerns in dealing with individuals who deal with these types of offences is the criminal record. So now, rather than dealing with it in the courts, and instead dealing with it by way of an administration system, it’s essentially avoiding one of the main repercussions of this type of behavior,” said Tralenberg.

Tralenberg said he was concerned with the difficulty the province could encounter in following the B.C. model and exploring if it does reduce drunk driving.

“One of things that hasn’t really been looked at or examined is to see what the result is. How effective this will be or how much it will really change the status in terms of impaired driving offences will be yet to be seen,” said Tralenberg.

The provincial government is currently exploring changes to impaired driving legislation in an effort to reduce the injuries and deaths that occur because of drunk driving.

The government will research and study legislative models from across the country in an effort to adapt to these legislative changes and keep Alberta drivers safe.

“It [impaired driving] is one of those offences that affects people from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter your income bracket, your socio-economic status, what area you live in, it affects everybody,” said Tralenberg.

Currently, impaired driving cases account for 40 per cent of trial times in Alberta, based on statistics from CBC Canada.

The changes to the provincial drunk driving laws will not be confirmed until later in 2018.
“The fact that you’re taking a criminal offence and decriminalizing it just takes away a major component of the punishment involved,” said Tralenberg.

“Even going through the process in and off itself is a major deterrent for individuals charged with a criminal offence, whether they’re found guilty or not.”

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