Key elements of B.C.'s system of immediate roadside penalties for drunk driving have been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

B.C.’s tough drunk driving penalties upheld

Supreme Court of Canada rules B.C. can continue its immediate roadside punishment for impaired drivers

Canada’s top court has upheld B.C.’s tough system of roadside penalties for impaired drivers, including vehicle impoundments, stiff fines and immediate 90-day licence suspensions.

The Supreme Court of Canada handed down twin judgments Friday that back key elements of the provincial government’s policy after it was challenged by motorists.

Justices said there was “no doubt” automatic roadside prohibitions are within the province’s jurisdiction and a valid regulatory measure.

They rejected the argument of opponents that the penalties effectively create an offence that requires a right to a fair trial, not an instant decision by police after a failed blood-alcohol reading on a portable device.

The court found the province’s “pressing and substantial” goal of enacting the scheme “was not to oust the criminal law, but rather to prevent death and serious injury on public roads by removing drunk drivers and deterring impaired driving.”

Roadside penalties have largely supplanted criminal investigations and prosecutions for impaired driving in B.C. The amount of time and money expended on drunk driving cases in the courts and by police is down because of the nearly 70 per cent drop in impaired charges.

Police still pursue criminal charges in cases of injury or death due to drunk driving.

Defence lawyers have criticized the immediate roadside prohibitions as a de facto decriminalization of most cases of impaired driving.

Although drivers who are caught and punished at roadside face stiff sanctions, they do not usually risk an impaired driving conviction and criminal record.

Also before the courts was the constitutionality of the compulsory demand to provide a breath sample or face roadside penalties.

A majority of Supreme Court justices said the original 2010 provision did violate the Charter of Rights protection against unlawful search and seizure.

The province amended its law in 2012 to allow drivers who fail a roadside breath test to take a second test – the lowest of the two readings is used – and created a process for them to appeal driving prohibitions.

“Our belief is that the amendments our government made in June 2012 already address the constitutional issues noted in the court’s decision,” B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said.

It’s not yet clear if drivers penalized in the first two years of the program could be compensated.

Anton welcomed the ruling, adding immediate roadside prohibitions have been “very effective” and have saved an estimated 260 lives over the past five years.

“People are learning from them, they’re not drinking and driving as much,” Anton said. “As soon as you blow that warn or that fail you will be penalized. And that is what deters people from drinking and driving. That’s what keeps our roads safe.”

Defence lawyers intend to continue to challenge elements of the B.C. law that were not addressed by the top court.

About 18,000 roadside prohibitions are issued each year and about two per cent are successfully challenged through the review process.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich Peninsula plugs into EV ownership

Sidney and Central Saanich record the second and third-highest EV ownership rate per 1,000 residents

PHOTOS: Kids, parents cool off at Langford splash park

Centennial Park is home to a popular water feature

Colwood man to ride 400 kilometres to fight kids cancer

Man riding for a beloved family member who died from leukemia at 13-years-old

Saanich woman completes 10 marathons, raises double her initial goal amount

Over $20,000 raised for Victoria Hospitals Foundation

UPDATED: Missing 25-year-old Saanich woman found Saturday

Yuhan Jin thought to be travelling by foot or bus, carrying two suitcases

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Small border towns are asking for exemption to travel ban

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

Woman arrested near Nanaimo beach after alleged road rage incidents

37-year-old woman facing charges including assault, assaulting a police officer, impaired driving

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Raptors kneel for both American and Canadian anthems ahead of tipoff

Majority of players have substituted their names on the backs of their jerseys with racial and social justice messages

Most Read