Not all drinking in new DUI laws
The numbers may show a dramatic drop in the number of drunk-driving deaths in B.C., but it hasn’t swayed one Kamloops business owner from softening his opposition to the province’s tough drinking and driving laws.
Frick and Frack restaurant owner Frank D’Amore suggested the decline in deaths on B.C. roads is a coincidence.
He believes the new laws have only changed the behaviour of drivers who already followed the rules.
“I truly feel the government made a mistake, but public policy dictates you can’t turn around and change what you did,” he D’Amore told KTW.
Preliminary statistics show 30 deaths in alcohol-related crashes in the first seven months of the new regulations, down from an average of 61 fatalities in the same October-to-April period of the previous five years.
D’Amore argued the previous drinking and driving laws worked well enough, arguing nearly all alcohol-related fatalities are caused by people significantly over the limit.
Last fall, the province introduced new laws in which drivers caught once in the “warn” range — between .05 and .08 per cent blood-alcohol level — in a five-year-period will face an immediate three-day driving ban and a $200 fine.
Instead of issuing a 24-hour suspension or a formal impaired charge, police can impose a 90-day driving ban, a $500 fine and impound the vehicle for 30 days, with the owner on the hook for the towing and storage charges.
However, the tough laws created a backlash from the restauran industry, which argued the rules would hurt business.
D’Amore estimated business at his restaurant/pub at Victoria Street and Sixth Avenue is down 16 to 18 per cent since the laws came into effect.
“It’s hit absolutely everybody’s business that’s in the restaurant or pub industry,” he said, noting the majority of profit margins come from alcohol sales.
“Without question, in 14 years, talking to other restaurants or pubs, I’ve never felt or seen anything that has affected them negatively as much as the .05.”
Former public-safety minister Rich Coleman had promised a review of the new rules late last year after the bar and restaurant industry complained of lost business because patrons were drinking less.
Coleman had indicated that might lead to an appeal period, during which drivers could lodge challenges before the penalties were applied.
No such legislation was tabled this spring.
The province has also decided to drop a plan for a campaign to help revelers decide how much they can drink before they might exceed the “warn” blood-alcohol limit of 0.05 if caught behind the wheel.
B.C. Restaurant and Foodservice Association president Ian Tostenson said his members now accept the rules are here to stay.
“When the theme of Families First came through from the premier, it was pretty obvious that no one in their right mind was going to say families are important — and, by the way, we’re going to loosen up on the impaired driving penalties,” he said.
Business was down much more steeply in the immediate months after the change, he said.
Now, Tostenson said, the worst-hit businesses are down perhaps 10 to 12 per cent from before the change, possibly as patrons better understand the rules and make alternate arrangements for transportation.
He said it’s difficult to say how much of the losses stem not from the drunk-driving penalties, but from consumers’ reluctance to spend due to the sluggish economy or the imposition of the harmonized sales tax.
“I think we just have to adapt and find ways to make it work,” Tostenson said.
“We wish it hadn’t happened. But, it’s here and let’s make the best of it.”
Attorney General Barry Penner is also counting on the policy change to help decongest B.C.’s crowded courts.
The shift to police-imposed roadside penalties — dubbed by some defence lawyers as an effective decriminalization of impaired driving — means most of those incidents no longer go into the court system.
Penner previously called it a side benefit of the change that should help cut the backlog in the criminal courts.
While those punished under the administrative system and not the courts pay a high price up front, they avoid possible court sanctions, including a criminal record, a possible one-year Canada-wide driving ban and potential jail time.
— with files from Black Press