Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Zero Tolerance Laws in Canada

On August 1, 2010, Ontario will join a few other Canadian provinces (not to mention the USA) in implementing zero-tolerance laws for drinking and driving.  In Ontario's case, the age limit will be 22, and the BAC limit will be 0.00%.  It is a traffic infraction rather than a criminal offense. The penalty will be an automatic 24-hour roadside suspension of one's license, plus a fine of up to $500 and a suspension of up to 30 days upon conviction.  For those over 22, the limit will remain 0.05 for a traffic infraction and 0.08 for a criminal offence of DUI.

Ontario has, and will retain, a drinking age of 19.  In Canada, the drinking age is 18 or 19 depending on the province.  Thus in Ontario, one can drive at 16, drink at 19, but will not be allowed to mix the two until 22 or until one has had a license for at least two years, whichever is longer.

We at Twenty-One Debunked, who unequivocally abhor drunk driving but believe the drinking age should be 18 and not a day later, have mixed feelings about the new law.  On the positive side, though it may or may not actually save lives, it does send a strong message that drinking and driving simply do not mix.  It provides a reason (or even an excuse) for young drivers to refuse a drink from their buddies at a bar or party without looking or feeling awkward.  It also helps to appease the fears among older adults about young people drinking and driving, and can help pre-empt more extreme measures, such as raising the drinking age.  On the negative side, it still remains a form of age discrimination, regardless of how well-intentioned it is, and the unrealistically low BAC limit provides no safeguards against false positives.  There is a significant margin of error of +/-0.01-0.02 in BAC readings, meaning that it is theoretically possible for someone who had nothing at all to drink can test positive and lose his or her license for up to a month.

Thus, we recommend keeping the law, but raising the BAC limit to 0.02, or at least automatically subtracting 0.01 or 0.02 from any breathalyzer reading if they still wish to retain the absolute zero limit.  Also, we think all fairly novice drivers (less than 5 years of licensed driving experience) should be held to the same standard regardless of age, as is currently done in the Netherlands with a BAC of 0.02.  In addition, we recommend that if there must be age limits, the drinking age should be lowered to 18, and the zero tolerance age should be 21.  Finally, we must never lose sight of the fact that (in the USA) the average BAC in fatal crashes is 0.16 overall and 0.14 for drivers under 21.  We need to see the forest for the trees, and focus enforcement where it matters most.  For those with high BACs, regardless of age, judges need to throw the book at them before they ever kill someone.

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