Province cracking down on drunk drivers

Teresa Wright
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P.E.I. strengthening its drunk driving laws

RCMP Const. Russ Stewart knows far too well the devastating impacts of drinking and driving.

He is still recovering from severe injuries he sustained after a woman driving a van two years ago smashed the car he was driving.

Her blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit. He suffered broken ribs, bones and teeth, a ruptured spleen that, a torn diaphragm and a brain injury that has caused memory loss and the loss of his peripheral vision.

Sitting in a news conference listening to the provincial government announce new, tougher laws for impaired drivers, Stewart said he felt uplifted.

“It just does my heart good to see that there are steps being taken, because in my mind it’s always been an issue and it’s always been a problem (in P.E.I.)”

On Thursday, the province introduced amendments to the Highway Traffic Act that will impose stricter laws on anyone who drinks and drives, including mandatory use of ignition interlock devices for all offenders. Previously these devices, which require a sober breath sample from the driver before a vehicle will start, were not mandatory for first-time offenders.

Those who get caught driving drunk with a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle will also have their ignition interlock sentence increased by one year.

Transportation Minister Robert Vessey said government is cracking down on drunk drivers in P.E.I. due to the consistently high rate of offenders in the province.

“There’s no excuse for driving while impaired and our government is serious about reducing the number of impaired drivers on our roads by introducing tougher penalties,” he said.

To date, approximately 400 Islanders have participated in the ignition interlock program. With the new measures announced Thursday, government anticipates an additional 400 participants.

Vessey said this program has proven successful.

“The department has heard directly from participants that the interlock is the only thing keeping them from driving while impaired.”

That’s not all. There are also new measures for seizing vehicles of convicted drunk drivers.

Those convicted of causing bodily harm or death from their impaired driving will immediately have their vehicle impounded for six months.

Drivers convicted of any three criminal code driving offences within the last 10 years will also have their vehicle impounded for six months.

Currently, depending on the circumstance, vehicles could only be impounded for a maximum of 60 days with a two-year window on past convictions.

These new impounding measures will include towing fees and daily impound fees that will result in thousands of dollars in fines, not including those fines imposed by the courts.

Vessey said these impound measures are a way to remove the possibility repeat offenders will get behind the wheel while intoxicated.

“Suspending a license or increasing fines isn’t enough to deter repeat offenders from driving,” Vessey said.

“The idea is simple – if you no longer have a car, you can’t drive while impaired.”

These measures will be enforced in addition to existing laws that prohibit drunk driving.

Those laws were not a deterrent enough to prevent hundreds of Islanders from getting in their vehicles after consuming alcohol.

Statistics Canada data shows the number of guilty sentences for impaired driving in P.E.I. has remained slightly above or below 300 for the past six years. This accounts for almost a third of the Island’s total criminal convictions and is almost twice the national rate.

So far this year there have been 286 impaired driving convictions in P.E.I.

P.E.I. also has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of impaired driving charges per capita in all of Atlantic Canada, according to the P.E.I. RCMP.

Sgt. Andrew Blackadar said Thursday he is happy with these legislative changes and said they are just the kinds of new laws police have been looking for.

He added that impaired driving is a major problem in P.E.I. but tougher laws and fines alone will not fix the problem. It is mindset that must be changed.

Stewart echoed this, saying the situation will not improve until the public’s social consciousness about the serious threat of this issue has been raised.

“Part of the raising of the social consciousness (is) getting the general public to say ‘Enough is enough,’” Steward said.

“It’s time to apply the pressure to those who are going to be offenders and repeat offenders – it’s not until all eyes are on them that they’re going to stop.”

After having survived a horrendous crash that could have easily been prevented, Stewart called these tougher new laws a victory.

“It’s been a particular thorn in the side of Prince Edward Island for a long time. It’s good to see that there are steps being taken to address it,” he said.

“It makes me feel quite good, actually.”

 FACTS:

Amendments to the Highway Traffic Act will strengthen impaired legislation by:

- Making the ignition interlock program mandatory for all offenders

- Outlining minimum time frames the program including: one year for the first offence, two years for the second, and five years for the third

- Increasing the mandatory time in the ignition interlock program by one year if a passenger under 16 is in the vehicle at the time of the offence

- Drivers convicted of any criminal code driving offence causing bodily harm or death will immediately have their vehicle impounded for six months

- Drivers convicted of any criminal code driving offence not causing death or bodily harm, but who have been convicted of a death or bodily harm offence in the past 10 years, will have their vehicle impounded for six months

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

 

Organizations: Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, MADD, The Guardian

Geographic location: Canada, Iceland

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Recent comments

  • Grant The Robber
    November 23, 2012 - 09:38

    Maybe we should target the pedophiles and theives now, or maybe we could run in the exact same circle for 13 years, or maybe Dr Ha Ha Lung books are dumb, I dunno though, I'm not smrt like the Que.

  • Great News
    November 23, 2012 - 09:12

    These changes to the HTA are a first step. I followed comments from Russ Stewart, RCMP Cst and David Griffin, Ret Deputy Chief of Police, these two are members of MADD Chapters on PEI, MADD Chapters across Canada were part of these long overdue changes. All MADD members across Canada deserve credit for some of this. All Islanders have to do their part to curb Impaired Driving by alcohol and drugs. Further changes within the Criminal Code are warranted as this one day and a fine does not cut it. In time I do believe we will see changes here as well, than PEI Judges can start handing out appropriate sentences. All serious injuries and Death as the result of Impaired Driving is preventable. Thank you to those helping make this changes and safer roads on PEI

  • ken
    November 23, 2012 - 08:22

    first time drunkdrivers should get 1 year in jail or 10,000 dollar fine . second time 2 years in prison. not weekends. .

  • Cell Phones
    November 23, 2012 - 07:48

    Hey---we almost ALL have cell phones----Guess it is up to us to do the the reporting to police. As they ask---SEE A DRUNK---Just phone 911. If everyone worked together on this I would bet one would see a dramatic drop of Drunks on the road.

  • voter
    November 23, 2012 - 07:42

    there is no difference between drunk drivers and texting drivers --- they are both DISTRACTED IDIOTS --and should be treated equally harsh --- ------THE CHANGES ARE NOT ENOUGH --- ----sounds like they are not getting very serious about the FIRST TIME OFFENDER -drunk,drugged,texter or phoner--just the repeater

  • Still not enough IMO
    November 23, 2012 - 07:25

    If it were up to me, I'd skip the "impound the car for six months" thing, and have the vehicle confiscated, permanently ... no matter if the driver is the owner or not, with the proceeds of the disposal sale going to Health Care. As it is now, a person caught poaching lobster suffers far stiffer penalties than a drunk driver. Kinda backwards, I would think.

  • One Victim's Opinion
    November 23, 2012 - 07:08

    Of course, we have to punish those who get caught drinking and driving. But to think punishment should be our primary focus is questionable. Sure, punishment initiatives makes Harper smile and the Tea Party happy, and may even put a shine on Vessey's toxic image. And if that's the goal, well, that's the goal. However, the victims of drunk drivers deserve better - they deserve action that addresses the full complexity of this horrid situation. Let's hope this announcement is the start of something much deeper. And, let's hope that this government will not be satisfied with the instant gratification of "shame and blame" legislation. Time will tell, but from where I sit (as a victim) I hope Islanders will not be satisfied with simply ribbon cutting a few new laws. We'll see if there's funding to back up those laws, and to get to the root of of the problem . . .

  • Affected Driving
    November 23, 2012 - 07:03

    There is a problem with drinking and driving. There is a bigger problem in our society with driving drug affect and distracted. Alcohol is playing an easy scape goat here. How may take various types of cold meds and drive? How many take pain meds and drive. It is no wonder there are those who think well texting and driving only makes me drive at a .08 BAL, it should be fine. I have had one-two beer (drinks) and drove before. Not to be miss those who find it ok to smoke before and drive or do it while driving. This problem will continue until society says you have to be completely sober and not drug affected in anyway before getting behind the wheel/handle bars of a vehicle and you have to pay attention. Put the phone down, don't smoke and put the burger away till you get home. If not Alcohol then what is the next question.

  • Jigger
    November 23, 2012 - 00:35

    I agree with most comments, as someone who has a DUI. I got what i deserved, a night in jail(the most humiliating night of my life) and a suspended license. I was not a chronic drinker and driver but I woke up too early one morning after a night of drinking at home celebrating with my wife, a major marital achievement. The issue I have is not with the increased sentencing for the crime but with what other criminal acts are penialized for. How can some men beat up there wives or children and rarely serve any time for there discretions as an example? In my mind such an act is far more serious than someone blowing barely over the legal limit and paying for it the rest of there lives. Chronic DUI's should be punished severly, and those who blow 2 times over the limit deserve what they get and MORE. But to focus on this one crime and increase the penalties whilst not increasing the penalties on other as serious crimes is wrong.

  • don
    November 22, 2012 - 23:01

    And if you are drunk and drive and you kill someone then you should be charged with MURDER. If I had a gun and killed someone and was drunk I would be charged with murder. What is the difference from a gun and a car? And less liquor stores. But dizzy loses the tax money. And what is sick is the more drunks the more PROFIT. And stop the serving your time on weekends if you lose your job big deal you knew better then get drunk in the 1st place. And really increase the fines 1st trip $4,000 bucks.then they say “Drivers convicted of any criminal code driving offence causing bodily harm or death will immediately have their vehicle impounded for six months” big deal jail time murder charges.i ask dizzy and his gang one question what is more important a life or profit? But i guess the answer is profits.

    • Yep
      November 23, 2012 - 07:16

      Referring to the premier as dizzy makes your comment seem really thought out and from someone who who takes all the facts with the seriouslness they deserve. Do you refer to the PM as Stephie the Harpie too?

  • A Mother's Grief
    November 22, 2012 - 23:01

    You will never hear the silent tears that trickle down a mother's face, as she tries to live each day without her child. A child who died at the hands of an impaired driver. A son/daughter, brother/sister........too many have lost their lives at the decision made to drive under the influence. Until we make it a life (imprisonment) for a life, the sentences will never be just. Impaired driving is not a mistake, it is a choice. We all know the result could be death. It is against the law to drink and drive. If you do so, you are committing a crime. If you kill someone you have committed murder and should be treated as a murderer. Visiting and talking to a stone on a marked grave will never ease the pain or mend the broken heart of those missing their loved ones because someone made a choice to break the law and drive impaired. I am thankful for the tougher laws, now lets hope our judicial system starts handing out maximum sentences and fines. No more serving on weekends. If an impaired driver loses their job, so be it. Concerned how his/her family will suffer? Think about those who have died and how their families continue to suffer.

  • Gerard W.
    November 22, 2012 - 22:26

    Great, Great move Robert Vessey, would like to see a driver fined three times for drunk driving that he/she loose their drivers licence for LIFE.

  • cONCERNED ABOUT THESE INCREASED HTA PROVISIONS
    November 22, 2012 - 19:30

    Agree with "Back on Subject" these HTA Provisions proposed are great but another real problem is the one day in custody and app $1300 fine for first offenders, this should be one week, $5000.00 fine straight time for first offence, any repeaters this should double, than triple, ONLY THAN will the message get through that Impaired by alcohol and drugs is not acceptable. We all have to do our part, call 911, prevent family and friends from drinking and driving, enforcement cannot do it alone. Mandatory programs for offenders to take and complete combined with Interlock is required, again before this issue will be taken seriously. The Judges can only go by sentencing guidlines set under the Criminal Code, and yes these have to be addressed and increased through Legislation. Time for talk is over, its time for action, this is a very serious problem on PEI and across Canada.

  • rosieredrose
    November 22, 2012 - 19:29

    I fully agree with "Multiple Cars" and so how will that problem be dealt with by the justice system????????????.

  • WERESOSPINELESS
    November 22, 2012 - 19:04

    The only guarantee that a chronic drunk driver will not drive during his/her suspension is if they're JAIL or PRISON. Our society doesn't have the spine for that. It has to get much worse before it gets better. Those who think these "strengthened" laws are anything but weak posturing are obviously unaffected by DUI and/or totally out of touch with reality. So what if it costs more to jail someone for the length of their suspension? We have no other way of guaranteeing they're off the street. In fact, we have too much evidence repeat, suspended drivers ARE driving drunk. Lock them up with the rest of society's dregs and violent offenders. I am so sick and tired of the collective Islander cowering pathetically in the face of reality like this. Great, a watered-down, toothless, results-free "strengthening", huh? Thanks for absolutely nothing. I will pay more taxes to make sure those who are recklessly, repeatedly threatening the lives of those I care about, are locked up as long as necessary. Jail is a REAL deterrent. It's a miserable place full of miserable people. Stop treating this like it's a simple Highway Traffic Act offense. This is a violent crime. It's within a judge's grasp to really throw the book at someone for this. We have people with DUI offenses in the double-digits, people, they belong in PRISON. I promise you, this is the ONLY way they will learn a lesson. This "strengthening" is an insult to those who have been killed by repeat DUI offenders. When are we going to face the cold reality of real cause and effect, and consider the real deaths? If I had my way, anyone caught DUI more than once should spend 5 years in prison and be banned from driving for life. If caught driving drunk after a lifetime ban, LIFE IN PRISON. Fill the prisons up with these booze-soaked rats if we have to. If they can't make their way through life without recklessly endangering innocent people, then they can be locked up like the animals they are. Better off in a cage than killing a carload of children. Now, let's here the sanctimonious tales of mercy and ignorant pacifism that keeps our laws toothless and drunks predictably and fearlessly behind the wheel.

  • Howard Marshall
    November 22, 2012 - 18:24

    This is still not enough. Anyone who is DUI is using their vehicle as a weapon and is therefore committing attempted murder. Anyone who causes death while DUI has committed murder and should be judged and sentenced as such. An end must be brought to this permissive society!

    • Cheap talk is not enough
      November 22, 2012 - 21:00

      In Poland the limit is 0.02% and the driving license is banned and you'll look at up to three years in prison. If you blow 0.05% your driving license is banned for up to 10 years. Also, almost half of people imprisoned for drunk driving in Poland were caught riding bicycles, and Poland still has the one of the highest DUI problems in the world. In the United Arab Emirates there is "zero tolerance" and the strictest penalties on the planet, and there's still a huge problem in those countries (although the rich do have an escape hatch). So, if anybody has the stupidity to think that only increasing punishment is the answer, guess they'd better live in Poland or the United Arab Emirates where you still stand a very good chance of being killed by a drunk driver. And if that isn't convincing enough, visit Russia - the problem there is toxic, but they too have very strict laws - way more strict that the laws Vessey is posturing. This does not argue for "permissiveness" but rather for consciousness, and deeper thinking about the challenge that confronts us. Vessey doesn't have a clue, but his level of intelligence is not his fault. But the rest of us better start thinking a tad deeper about this. Unless we're willing to use our tax dollars to fight this crime, we're not doing enough.

  • Head Shaker
    November 22, 2012 - 17:05

    I'm surprised that we don't have people sayinbg we need to get rid of penalties and just do education. That seems to be the answer to everything else.

    • What?
      November 22, 2012 - 18:21

      Since not one post so far even implies what you've said, what explains your comment? Just because penalties are necessary, it doesn't make them sufficient. Along with penalties, we need extensive interventions, and the funding to create an sustain those interventions. If the death penalty was all we needed to stop murder, there would be no murders. Think about VESSEY'S FLIP-FLOP and provide a counter position. Not so easy, eh?

    • huh
      November 23, 2012 - 07:13

      So you think the answer to murder is education? Do you think things like Drunk driving, and Murder, and child abuse are because people don't know that they shouldn't do them? Is it because they don't understand any practial techniques for not driving down the road at 120 KPH after 10 beer? Is it because we haven't hugged them enough. The reason many people still murder are 1) they don't think and just act emotionally and 2) they don't think they will get caught and 3) they think if they do get caught they have an excuse to get out of it. a 55 year old career drunk does not need an education program to tell him he should not be hitting the highway full of booze.

  • multiple cars
    November 22, 2012 - 16:27

    So somebody has a DUI conviction and has one of these interlock devices on one of their cars. What happens if they have access to multiple cars? My friend's father was a notorious drunk down east. Between himself, his wife, his girlfriends, his numerous kids and other friends this guy would have access to at least 50 vehicles I'm sure. And he had a few DUI convictions (the few times he was caught).....

  • Another Step Backwards for PEI
    November 22, 2012 - 16:22

    95% of all impaired drivers are less of a risk to the driving public than one sober person texting while driving. I'm not saying that it is right to drink alcohol or take drugs and drive a motor vehicle, but there is a much better chance that the sober person texting will cause a highway accident than the impaired person will. Yet, now when the texting driver smashes into the person that has had a few drinks, it will be simple to decide who goes to prison. What a bunch of boneheads we have running this province.

    • you are so wrong
      November 22, 2012 - 22:40

      Obviously you love to defend drunk drivers by attacking texting drivers. I have zero use for either instances. A texting driver if caught would be charged with driving without due care and attention under the provincial Highway Safety Act. If a texting driver killed someone then that would be vehicular manslaughter. HOWEVER, a drunk driver is committing a Criminal Code of Canada violation. If caught, they would be charged under that federal law. The big problem here are the fines and penalties - still far too lenient. First time offence should be automatically 1 week in the slammer and $5000 fine and 6 month seizure of vehicle and 3 years with ignition interlock device. If you get caught again, then no tolerance - automatic multi-year jail sentences, $10-$20k fine minimum, forfeiture of the vehicle FOREVER, and ignition interlock device for life after you get out. That is the only way to drum home to the idiots in PEI society that driving drunk is not to be tolerated.

    • You are so wrong???
      November 23, 2012 - 08:20

      Just wondering what the point is of the ignition interlock is if you love your vehicle? While I agree with most of your statement... some of them just don't make sense. The problem really starts with friends and family believe the "I'm fine ... I've only had a few" and being afraid to be the bad guy. I've called 911 on someone I know was impaired, but if it were your friend or family member would you? We have no hesitation if it were a stranger, but if it's someone close to us, well it's much harder. The problem doesn't start with the laws. If you saw someone breaking into a house, you'd call? Why when someone you know is walking out of a house stumbling to the car we hesitate. Everything starts at home! The same way we teach people not to steal we should teach them not to drink and drive.

  • Good Idea
    November 22, 2012 - 15:56

    This is good because lord knows, after hours you have to be extra careful on the roads on PEI, it seems to be a way of life for some. Step 2: Please tighten the laws on Embezzlement, fraud and breach of contract. $8 million dollars in un- tendered contracts and a Minister after 4 years of saying "No, we didn't do it" finally say sorry we did it with zero consequences. ZERO! I know a family in Stratford who was ruined by your lies and deceit.

  • romeo
    November 22, 2012 - 15:43

    The extra year for a minor will not work. Instead it should be a charge of attempted manslaughter for each PERSON in the vehicle

  • Owen S
    November 22, 2012 - 15:35

    Several late evenings last summer, I ended up following obviously impaired drivers down various roads on the island. During one fine afternoon on Highway 2, I realized that the 4 guys in the truck ahead were all happily passing around beers in the cab. They weren't kids either. 40ish fellows. In 4 weeks of 2 daily 40 minute trips down that busy road, I didn't see a single RCMP cruiser. Nice to see the province starting to take this seriously.

    • ndmacdonald
      November 22, 2012 - 18:04

      When we witness impaired drivers we are asked to call 911 to report them. The police cannot be everywhere at once- we all have to work together to stop this!!

  • Vessey's flip-flop?
    November 22, 2012 - 15:28

    First of all, I want to say that I lost my best friend to a drunk driver. The driver was an RCMP officer, but that fact doesn't change much. It does suggest how deep this problem goes. With that said, this is quite flip-flop for Mr. Vessey! For over a year he's been pushing the absurd idea on Islanders that it's pavement, not poor driving habits and disobeying the law, that causes accidents. Imagine if he'd spent a fraction of Islanders' tax dollars on proper police patrols? Imagine if he spent much more on education about drunk driving, or more public service announcements on TV and the radio? Let's not forget, instead he spent those millions on a road few want and nobody needs. We do require interventions, what we don't need is hypocritical political spins. If this man had any class, he would have had someone else make the announcement in the Legislature.

    • Back on Subject
      November 22, 2012 - 18:26

      This article is not about millions spent on a highway no one wanted. NO ONE WANTS to lose a loved one at the decision made by an impaired driver. Our province has one of the highest rates for impaired drivers per capita!PEI we have a problem. It has become socially accepted and this is wrong. Tighter laws and maximum sentences may make a difference. Please call 911 if you suspect someone of driving impaired (drugs or alcohol). Call 911 even if it is your own family member or friends. If you fail to report an impaired driver and they kill or maime then you are a silent contributor. IT IS NEVER OKAY TO DRIVE UNDER THE INFLUENCE. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR DOING SO. I agree we need tougher laws re texting as well. Combine both and it is a loaded weapon on our highways. Impaired driving is NOT an accident. It is a CHOICE. If you choose to break the law then you should be punished . If your decision takes a life then you should face maximum penalties.

    • Of course we need tighter laws, that's the subject.
      November 22, 2012 - 19:16

      Of course we need tighter laws, but we need funding to enforce those laws. This is the subject, the subject is politicians putting our tax dollars where they need to be spent. Identifying real problems (like drinking and driving) not just blah, blah, blah in the legislature. Had this announcement had budget dollars attached to it, it's credibility would have multiplied ten fold. Millions for a road, but not a penny to enable police to increase their patrols? Foolishness!

    • Cst. Anoymous
      November 24, 2012 - 12:43

      Someone find this person a seat in the House of Commons you are right the police have no funding and no backing to fight impaired driving. Can easily catch one per day on PEI....but paper work is like never before restricting us to a desk... Glorified secretary's now police officers are!!!!!