POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 51 Why Have Impaired Driving Charges Dropped? Impaired driving charges across Canada dropped by 22 per cent between 1990 and 1994. Yet research shows that the incidence of impaired driving was in fact increasing in this period. About 12 per cent of drivers on the road at night still take the wheel after drinking, and about one-third of all drivers killed in road crashes are impaired. A survey suggests front-line officers are laying fewer charges because of difficulties in enforcing impaired driving laws. In September, 1998, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Transport Canada released a survey of front-line police officers across Canada. The survey, which took place in the spring of 1997, asked the officers about their attitudes and perceptions regarding enforcement and prosecution of impaired drivers. Over 1,500 officers in municipalities, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and the S˚retÈ du Quèbec responded to the mail-in questionnaire - a return rate of 71 per cent. Following are some of the survey's key findings: • On average, it takes almost three hours for an officer to complete the paperwork and go through the process to charge one person with a Criminal Code impaired driving offence. It takes that same officer at least four more hours if that case goes to trial. These time frames may account for the relatively few Driving While Impaired (DWI) charges being laid (about 7.5 charges per front-line officer over a one-year period). About half of all officers surveyed admitted they would lay more charges if it took less time to process and administer the charges. • The amount of time officers can spend enforcing impaired driving laws may be diminishing because of demands for other services. Although most officers believe the arresting and prosecuting impaired drivers is a fairly high priority, they feel they do not always have the full support of officers in management positions. Many also believe their agency does not have adequate human resources to deal with the problem. • Twenty to 30 per cent of officers use their own discretion when charging drivers who may be impaired over the federal legal limit of .08 (blood alcohol concentration or BAC over 80 mg per 100 ml). For example, instead of laying Criminal Code charges they may allow a sober passenger to take over the driving, send the impaired driver home by taxi or give a 12 or 24 hour administrative licence suspension. (See below.) • Enforcement officers believe that in many cases, mainly due to heavy caseloads, Crown Attorneys are either not adequately prepared when impaired driving cases come to court or have not even had time to open the file before the first court appearance. • The most frequent general comment received from the responding officers related to the lenient and/or inconsistent rulings handed down by judges. They also commented on their concern about the lengthy processing time, the amount of paperwork they are required to complete and the lack of human resources to deal with the problem. • Over two-thirds agreed with the sanctions being implemented in many jurisdictions across Canada. They give greatest support to administrative licence suspensions, vehicle impoundment and other provincial sanctions which take effect at BAC levels below .08. Enforcement officers are the first line of defense in the fight against impaired driving. The Canada Safety Council believes the above issues must be addressed. The job of the enforcement officer must be made as easy as possible while ensuring the rights of the accused are protected. Publication # TP13161 E, Transport Canada, Safety and Security, Road Safety Administrative Licence Suspensions: Public Good Versus Individual Freedom On October 13, 1998, the Ontario Court of Appeal put on hold its decision on the legality of a provincial law passed in November 1996. That law removes impaired drivers from the road immediately and suspends their licenses for 90 days if they blow over the legal limit or refuse to give a breath test. The law is being challenged on the basis that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the past, courts have upheld the legality of measures to reduce impaired driving, such as RIDE and STEP programs, recognizing the right of the public to be protected against drunk drivers. The CACP-Transport Canada survey revealed that 30 per cent of officers prefer short term licence suspensions (similar to the Ontario law) to laying Criminal Code charges, as an effective way to take impaired drivers off the road. The Canada Safety Council has expressed concern that a decision to overturn this law will create a serious setback to the national fight against impaired driving. © 2006 Canada Safety Council Canada Safety Council C A N A D A ’ S V O I C E A N D R E S O U R C E F O R S A F E T Y