If I had to pinpoint the one news story that has disturbed me the most in recent years, it would definitely be the trial of Carol Berner, the woman who apparently downed most of a bottle of wine before mowing down four-year-old Alexa Middelaer, while the little girl was feeding a horse at the edge of a quiet street in Delta. I do have some sympathy for Berner, who made a tragic mistake and will have to live with it forever.
But mainly, as the father of three daughters, I just feel overwhelming sympathy for the parents of that beautiful little girl. Watching them talk on TV, I have wept for them. And they are not the only parents to have suffered such a tragedy …
So of course I was happy when the BC Government changed the Motor Vehicle Act, announcing that it was introducing the toughest drunk driving laws in Canada.
British Columbia now has some of Canada’s strictest drunk driving laws with consequences for a BAC above 0.05, and increased consequences for a BAC above 0.08. Rules differ depending on driving experience. Any novice driver with a graduated license may not drive with any alcohol in their body.
Effectively, the limit for blood alcohol levels was decreased right down to 0.05, meaning that small people cannot risk even one glass of wine. Even though this means that Maggie and I will no longer be able to go out for dinner and a bottle of wine, if these new drunk driving laws save one family from that kind of grief, who am I to complain about minor inconveniences?
However, right back when it was introduced, the Times Colonist warned that “Critics of the new drunk driving laws say it will effectively decriminalize drunk driving by having many cases dealt with roadside instead of in a courtroom”. I didn’t even notice that warning – I was too busy being happy that cyclists, pedestrians and innocent motorists would be in less danger from impaired drivers.
Has our DUI Criminal Process been Turned into Nothing but an Administrative Process?
Two months after the law was introduced, lawyer Michael Shapray was saying that what has really happened is that the government has come up with a regime to turn the criminal process that used to handle drunk drivers into an administrative process. Shapray was upset because the number of DUI clients coming into his offices had plummeted. He believes the government’s real motive with the new drunk driving laws is to alleviate the pressure on the courts, which are hamstrung by a shortage of judges and prosecutors.
Apparently police used to send suspected DUI drivers in for breathalysers, which initiated criminal charges that often ended up in the courts (providing plenty of business for lawyers). Now, with the new drunk driving laws, if drivers fail a roadside screening breath test, police just seize their cars and impose the new administrative penalties. This saves the police a lot of paperwork and the courts a lot of cases. It also nets a lot of money for government, as those who blow a “fail” end up paying about $4,000 in administrative penalties. (A heavy hit for those who may have had just two glasses of wine; a get-out-of-jail-almost-free ticket for the very drunk.)
When I read this, I began to think that the new drunk driving laws that have been hailed as Canada’s toughest ever crackdown on drunk drivers was just a clever sleight of hand, designed to create the impression of cracking down, while secretly just helping balance the budget by taking pressure off the courts and bringing in revenue.
The Tragic Results of Impaired Driving
However, I changed my mind one morning, while listening to an interview on CBC with an emergency room doctor. He spoke about dealing every day with the severely injured or dying victims of drunk drivers. He spoke of the horror of having to give parents the devastating news that their child has been killed by a drunk driver. As he said, these parents will never be the same again (and I know that from personal experience too). This doctor applauded the new laws, saying that the number of victims of drunk drivers coming into his emergency room has plummeted since the new drunk driving laws came in.
So now I think that whatever the motive for introducing the new tough drunk driving laws, if they are saving lives and saving people from the agony of losing their loved ones, then I am 100% behind them.
Random Roadside Checks as Well?
Then the doctor added that the new drunk driving laws don’t go far enough: what we also need is to introduce random roadside checks. He said that in all the countries that have introduced these, crashes caused by drunk drivers have declined dramatically. (These kinds of checks are however opposed by those who believe they invade privacy rights. Personally, I don’t think anyone has the right to be privately drunk on a public road, while driving 5 tons of potentially lethal car.)
Why is this relevant to a cycling blog? Well, the doctor interviewed on CBC noted that drunk driving has been growing steadily over the years, and that presently if you are driving at night, you should expect that at least one in 42 of the cars you see will be driven by impaired drivers. Well, given that I have noticed that drivers often have difficulty noticing cyclists even when they are sober, I find this pretty terrifying.
So I say, if even tougher drunk driving laws will make all of us safer (and when I say all of us, I include motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, little children feeding horses, and babies in strollers), then bring ’em on!
And I have to say I am finding it hard to care that fewer impaired drivers means lawyers have less work … almost as hard as I am finding it really hard to care that business in pubs and restaurants is down because patrons are drinking less before they get in their cars …
How to Stay Safe as a Teen Road User
According to statistics, the number of cyclists on America’s roads have increased to over 66 million, showing the rise in popularity of this transportation method. We all have to share the road in harmony, and needless to say, cyclists are at the highest risk of injury. So what can teen drivers do to keep themselves and others safe on the road? Teens are more at risk of an accident on the road due to:
- Increased cell phone use while driving
- Ability to succumb to peer pressure from passengers
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs before getting behind the wheel
- Easily distracted
- Elevated confidence when first learning to drive
Teenage drivers are also more likely to take risks and are less likely to spot hazards, such as a cyclist coming up at their rear. Parents can help teens stay safer by becoming great role models, both on their bicycle and in their car.
Read more here on how to stay safe as a teenage driver.
Let’s all stay sober, and avoid killing anyone! I will conclude with this timeless quote:
“How about if we all just try to follow these very simple Rules of the Road? Drive like the person ahead on the bike is your son/daughter. Ride like the cars are ambulances carrying your loved ones to the emergency room. This should cover everything …” Letter to VeloNews from David Desautels, Fort Bragg, California
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