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Ottawa looks to lower blood-alcohol limit for drivers

In letter to provincial and territorial ministers, Wilson-Raybould suggests limit of 50 mg per 100mg of alcohol – down from current 80 mg


 
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Jan.26, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS.Adrian Wyld

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Jan.26, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS.Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – The classic romantic date is in danger of disappearing if the federal government reduces the legal alcohol limit for licensed drivers, a spokesman for Quebec’s restaurant lobby said Tuesday.

Francois Meunier said if Ottawa passes such a law, it would be a disaster for the restaurant industry — and for lovers.

“The (change would) mean a woman can have one drink and a man, in most cases, two,” Meunier said. “Forget about a bottle of wine for two, for a Valentine’s Day dinner — that’s over.”

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In a letter to provincial and territorial justice ministers dated last May, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould suggested lowering the limit to 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood from the current 80 milligrams.

The federal minister said the change would “make it easier to fight the danger posed by drivers who have consumed alcohol.”

Meunier, who works for an association that represents restaurateurs in Quebec, said his members are less worried about losing alcohol sales and more concerned with seeing a significant drop in total revenues, as people choose to stay home.

“It’s about food sales that go with the alcohol,” he said.

“When it comes to celebrations, parties, all that will be done at home as people change their behaviour. It’s easy to talk about taking a taxi or public transportation, but in the (outlying) regions it’s not as easy.”

Wilson-Raybould responded to the reaction to her letter through a spokesperson on Tuesday.

“I believe that lowering the federal limit to 50mg would better respond to the danger posed by impaired drivers, by sending a strong message through the criminal law and changing drivers’ behaviour,” Wilson-Raybould said.

“I have therefore sought the input of my provincial counterparts, in order to solicit their views. At this stage, no decision has been made.”

RELATED: How the war on drunk driving distracts from the real danger

Wilson-Raybould says the current rules were established after research indicated the risk of being involved in a car crash was twice as likely when a driver has 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in his or her system.

“More recent research indicates that this data underestimated the fatal crash risk,” she said Tuesday. “In fact, the risk is almost double at 50mg, almost triple at 80mg, and rises exponentially above that level.”

In her letter to her provincial and territorial counterparts, Wilson-Raybould cited Ireland as a case study in the dissuasive effect a reduction in blood/alcohol limit levels can have.

“The reduction to 50 milligrams of alcohol (per 100 millilitres of blood), combined with obligatory testing for alcohol, produced a 50 per cent reduction in deadly road accidents,” she wrote, “and a reduction of about 65 per cent in the number of (criminal) charges.”

Quebec is the only jurisdiction in Canada that has no sanctions in place for drivers who register a blood/alcohol level of more than 50 milligrams. The province tried twice to impose penalties for such drivers, but failed.

Last spring, at the same time the federal government tabled legislation to legalize marijuana, it also introduced a bill increasing penalties for drivers caught under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Bill C-46 allows police to demand drivers submit to a breathalyzer even if they don’t suspect they are under the influence.

Peter Sergakis, the head of an association representing bar owners, said the government should focus on stopping repeat drunk drivers, not penalizing responsible adults.

RELATED: Is Canada ready to deal with stoned drivers?

“Police are only applying the current laws during the holiday season,” he said.

Sergakis said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not being consistent in his approach.

“Trudeau wants to legalize marijuana — he wants to get everyone high,” said the bar owner. “It’s a double standard. He wants to get everyone high but prevent them from drinking. Where is the logic?”

CAA-Quebec called Ottawa’s proposal “commendable,” but said it would be bad timing to introduce such a measure while provinces are preparing for the marijuana legalization bill to become law in 2018.

“With the reduction of the alcohol limit to 50 milligrams, we think it’ll be too difficult for governments to handle and it’s a pill too big for drivers to swallow,” said CAA-Quebec spokesman Marco Harrison.

Theresa-Anne Kramer, a spokeswoman for the Montreal branch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said her organization has been lobbying since 2001 for a reduction in the legal alcohol limit.

“In Germany, they haven’t stopped their beer festivals,” she said. “And in Ireland, I never heard that they had to close a pub — and both those countries have the 50 milligram limit.”


 

Ottawa looks to lower blood-alcohol limit for drivers

  1. Typical of a politician to fail to do her homework. Even a modest couple of hours spent perusing the available online reports will lead you to a basic conclusion: Lowering the allowable BAC to .05% will have no measurable impact on traffic safety, while simultaneously reducing (marginally) the quality of life for millions. The impact of alcohol on traffic safety has been grossly overstated for decades. Collisions between drunk pedestrians and cars driven by sober drivers are lumped in as “alcohol related” traffic incidents. Ditto for bicycles. A very large number of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities are due to the walker of cyclist being very impaired. Lowering the BAC to .05% will not alter that, just as it will not alter the fact that in 2/3 of all fatal accidents involving an at fault impaired driver, that driver has a BAC of .16% or higher. Similarly, that driver often has a track record of impaired driving and other alcohol related problems.
    Moving to a legal BAC limit of .05% is nothing more than legal overreach to try and solve a problem that is already pretty much solved.

  2. I find these attacks on our liberties and quality of life offensive and unacceptable.

    We break the law when we drive when we are unfit to or impaired. That is when we put others at unacceptable risk. That has been determined to be .08 BAC.

    When I am not impaired I don’t want to be convicted of driving while impaired. Is there anything unreasonable about that?

    Just because Jody is too impaired without touching a drop of alcohol should not adversely affect everyone else. Maybe she’s been smoking the wacky tobaccy.

    Hey Jody what are you going to do when Trudeau legalizes pot? What’s the impaired limit and how will it be consistently monitored?

    I suggest you get cracking on that first as people’s safety will really be at risk.

    • Are these alcohol related stats contaminated by drug use. Are all drugs tested for after an accident? Do the stats reflect this?

      The impairment from the combination of pot and alcohol is cumulative.

      Considering Trudeau has promised to legalize pot, surely (or Jody) must already know how they will test consistently at the roadside for impairment.

      I hope ther tests work for the elderly and disabled drivers as with everyone else.

  3. This may generate revenue for the slush-funds, but it will not make our roads safer.
    But, that was never the point, was it?

  4. How about stiffer jail time? The justice system is to lenient on drunks and the drunks know it.

    Tired of seeing all the crosses along the highways, knowing the deaths were probably alcohol related.

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