British Columbia's drunk driving laws still the toughest in Canada

British Columbia's drunk driving laws will largely remain in place for now following a Supreme Court ruling.

British Columbia's controversial drunk driving laws will largely remain in place following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, according to the Vancouver Sun. While the court ruled that the law, as passed in 2010, was unconstitutional, amendments that were made in 2012 — which the court did not rule on — mean that the roadside licence suspensions at the centre of the controversy will largely remain in place. As a result, while the tough drunk driving penalties will stay around at least until the 2012 amendments are challenged, drivers who were charged under the original version of the law may be able to apply for compensation.

Automatic Roadside Prohibition

British Columbia's drunk driving law allows police to issue automatic driving suspensions and to seize vehicles of people who fail a roadside Breathalyzer test (aka. approved screening device test). Drivers have their licence automatically suspended for up to 90 days under the current rules. Opponents of that measure argue that the province is subjecting drivers to what effectively amounts to a criminal sentence, but without the right to adequately challenge the evidence leading to such a penalty.

Criminal law is a federal responsibility, but driver's licenses are the responsibility of provincial governments. While the Supreme Court ruled that the provincial government's drunk driving laws did not constitute a criminal law, they did rule that the 2010 version of the law violated search and seizure protections. The government passed amendments to the law in 2012, however, which it says addresses the constitutional concerns raised by the court.

Issue Settled?

The ruling, therefore, may have a limited immediate effect on most drivers in the province. The roadside prohibitions will largely remain in place, although drivers who were charged under the original version of the law may be entitled to compensation.

However, as CBC News reports, this recent ruling does not mean that the controversy surrounding British Columbia's laws is settled. The 2012 amendments, for example, that the government says address any constitutional lapses in the original law could still be challenged in the future. Furthermore, concerns still exist about the reliability of the approved screening device (ASD) Breathalyzer tests that are often used by police at roadside stops. The ASD Breathalyzer tests, for example, may give a false reading if drivers use mouthwash or have had just one drink relatively shortly prior to the test being administered. Additionally, the reliability of the devices can be compromised if they are improperly calibrated by officers.

Drunk Driving Charges

Losing a driver's licence can seriously hamper one's ability to earn a living and to maintain one's quality of life. Anybody who has been charged with drunk driving or Immediate Driving Prohibition should seek the help of a criminal defence lawyer right away. An experienced lawyer can assist clients with understanding their legal rights and, assist them to challenge the automatic 90-day driving prohibition under the Immediate Roadside Prohibition regime.