Police vow they'll continue to bust impaired drivers despite a court ruling saying B.C.'s new roadside penalties infringe on the right to a fair trial.

‘We still don’t want people to drink and drive’

Police say they'll continue to bust impaired drivers, despite court ruling last week about new roadside penalties.

Police are not going to reduce roadside counterattack checks, despite a recent court ruling.

After a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled last week that the most severe of B.C.’s new impaired driving penalties infringe on people’s constitutional rights to a fair trial, Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond announced police in the province won’t impose the toughest of the new roadside penalties until drivers are given a way to appeal the results of a failed breath test.

But E Division RCMP Supt. Norm Gaumont said Monday that little will change.

“We will absolutely not be reducing counterattack roadside checks,” Gaumont said. “Nothing’s changed here. We still don’t want people to drink and drive. Let’s keep up the good work.”

Gaumont said evidence shows that roadside prohibition is effective, noting police have seen a 50 per cent drop in alcohol-related deaths in the Lower Mainland, and are on par to finish 2011 with less than 100 alcohol-related fatalities – something he can’t remember seeing in a long time, if ever.

In 2005, there were 180 such deaths in Metro Vancouver alone, so seeing major drop can only be good news, he said.

“Now, we’re just back to where we were before the new laws came in. I don’t think (the drop in alcohol-related deaths) will change,” Gaumont said.

In his ruling, Justice Jon Sigurdson said the increased penalties for blowing in the “warn” range of 0.05 to 0.08 per cent, are permissible. But drivers who blow in the “fail” range above 0.08 should have a chance to challenge the decision if their vehicles are impounded for 30 days and they face thousands of dollars in administrative penalties, Sigurdson said.

Gaumont said the government has indicated it will be looking to amend the year-old impaired driving law and that the RCMP is looking forward to working with them as they review the judge’s decision and amend the new rules.

In the meantime, police will revert to the old roadside impairment rules, which means impaired drivers can still face a 90-day administrative driving prohibition and can still be charged criminally if they are driving while under the influence of alcohol.

The newer penalties – which Sigurdson did not immediately strike down while he awaits submissions from the province and the driver challenging the new rules – are more strict, allowing police to give drivers with a blood alcohol reading in the “warn” range a three-day driving ban, a $200 administrative penalty and another $250 fee to have a driver’s licence reinstated. Drivers can also have their cars impounded for three days and be billed for towing and storage.

For roadside readings of 0.08 per cent or higher, police have been imposing a 90-day driving ban, a $500 fine and impounding the vehicle for 30 days. That suspension can cost a driver $3,750 for such things as towing, storage and a mandatory “responsible driver” course.

Gaumont said he doesn’t want to see anyone killed by impaired drivers, whether the new rules stay in effect or not.

“Make sure you have a safe way home and don’t drink and drive,” he said.

by Tricia Leslie

– with files from Tom Fletcher