British Columbia’s drinking and driving regulatory penalties took effect in September of 2010. The regulations permit police to issue an immediate roadside driving prohibition to a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05 or higher.
If you are the driver of a motor vehicle, and register between .05 and .08 on the roadside screening device, for a first offence, you will receive a three day driving prohibition and the vehicle that you are driving can be towed and impounded for three days, for a cost of $600 in fines, fees, storage and towing. For a second offence, count on a seven day driving prohibition and a seven day vehicle impoundment, for a cost of $760. For a third offence, the driving prohibition and impoundment will be 30 days, but you will also be required to take a responsible drivers course and you will have to get an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle, for a total cost of $3,960. That’s not all; the cost of your car insurance could also go up after the first, second and third offences
These consequences are for a BAC between .05 and .08, or less than the criminal limit of .08. The Supreme Court of British Columbia has recently decided that these penalties are justified – they are here to stay. It doesn't take much alcohol to put your BAC above .05. For many, one pint of beer consumed in less than one hour could elevate BAC to .05, or higher.
All of these penalties are based on a roadside screening device, which is a portable, hand held device that registers a “green” (pass), “yellow” (.05-.08) or “red” (.08 and above), as opposed to the more sophisticated breathalyzer machine found at the police station. The roadside screening device is not infallible. A falsely high reading of your blood alcohol can result if there is any residual alcohol present in your mouth. Residual mouth alcohol can be present for 15 minutes after your last drink, or much longer if you have heartburn or any deep burps.
There is little way to meaningfully challenge the roadside driving prohibitions. The rules of evidence that would apply in court, the requirement for proof beyond a reasonable doubt and the rights enshrined in our Constitution do not apply.
If you blow “red” (.08 or above), you will be brought into the police station for a formal breathalyzer test. If you register above .08 on the breathalyzer, expect to be charge with a criminal offence. If convicted in court, you will have a criminal record and be prohibited from driving for 15 months (on top of the financial penalties of having your vehicle towed and impounded, the responsible drivers course, the ignition interlock device and increased costs of car insurance). If you refuse to blow, you will be subject to the same penalties as if you blew over .08.
You may have heard on the news that the immediate roadside driving prohibitions have been declared unconstitutional; that is only partially true and it certainly does not mean you can now drive while impaired. The only part of the new law that was declared unconstitutional was the regulatory penalties for registering over .08 on the roadside screening device. It is still a criminal offence to drive with a BAC over .08.
You don’t even have to put a vehicle into motion to be subject to the regulatory or criminal penalties. You only have to have “care and control” of a motor vehicle; sitting or sleeping in the driver’s seat with the keys in your pocket may qualify.
Before getting behind the wheel, the question you should be asking yourself is not only, “Am I safe to drive?” but also, “Am I OK to be pulled over?” If you have had one drink or more or you are just not sure, the answer to both questions should be “no” – don’t drive. If you plan on consuming any alcohol at all, why not walk, get a taxi or make other arrangements? Relieve yourself of the anxiety of possibly being caught, we will all be safer and, if you walk, your carbon footprint is zero.