New drunk driving law lets Maple Ridge cops stay on road

Motorists like the new system, but local bars and pubs are still feeling the pain

Brent Molander of The Jolly Coachman shows how to get home safely after a few drinks.

Brent Molander of The Jolly Coachman shows how to get home safely after a few drinks.

Busted for drunk driving?

Want to deal with it the old way, with criminal charges, being dragged through the courts, a criminal record –  even lawyers involved?

Or do you want it over with – fast?

Under the new, immediate roadside prohibition program, pay the steep fines, stop driving for the suspension period – and it’s all dealt with.

It’s one of the upsides of the tough law passed last September to curb drunk driving, and when motorists have that explained to them, they’re often grateful, says RCMP Cpl. Dale Somerville.

The guy stopped for drunk driving “can still go the U.S. He does not have a criminal record,” said Somerville, with the Ridge Meadows detachment.

“I’m not giving a soccer mom a criminal record.”

Premier Christy Clark said Monday the government is keeping the law it introduced last September. It ramps up administrative penalties for impaired driving.

That comes after a 50-per-cent, year-to-date reduction provincewide in impaired driving deaths, down to 30 compared with same period before the system was in place.

The roadside prohibition program allows police to seize vehicles for three days and issue three-day driving bans if a motorist blows in the warn range, between .06 and .09 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, on the roadside screening device. Fines of $450 and towing charges are also part of the deal.

That replaces the 24-hour roadside suspension police formerly used.

Under the new system, drivers who fail completely can get stung with a three-month driving ban, a 30-day vehicle lockup and fines, program requirements and a required ignition interlock device, all of which will exceed $4,000.

Somerville says the new system allows officers to catch drunk drivers, haul away their cars and get them off the road faster than the three to four hours it would require to run a Breathalyzer test at the local detachment.

The benefit is apparent in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. RCMP laid 34 impaired driving charges in the first six months of 2010 under the old system. It issued four impaired driving charges and 46 roadside driving bans of 90 days and month-long impounds during the same time this year.

That’s a 32-per-cent increase, Somerville pointed out.

“I feel good about the fact we’ve taken 16 more drivers off the road that could have hit me or your family.”

While the penalties may be not be as enduring, they are sharper, particularly when comparing a three-day driving ban, $450 fine, and impound and towing charges for three days with the former 24-hour suspension.

Fear about the new penalties, however, is still being felt at the local bars and pubs.

“It’s really affected us,” said Bruce McGregor, manager of The Jolly Coachman in Pitt Meadows.

Often when a couple comes in, one will be drinking and the other won’t, he said.

“A lot of people are scared. A guy who’s got to have his vehicle for work is not even going to chance it.”

It’s the same at the new Witch of Endor liquor store in Maple Ridge, where sales have been hurt  by the new law.

“Absolutely. Big time,” says Christina Dodd, manager of the liquor store.

She supports the new law, but said it has “caused some issues.”

Sometimes, it’s not even possible to give booze away. Before the drinking and driving law, between 60 and 70 per cent of customers would always sample the free tastings in the store.

“But now, they won’t even do that.”

People on their way home from a bar are afraid that could be enough to put them over the limit, Dodd said.