POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 75 Would a Lower Criminal BAC Save Lives? In Canada, any person with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 80 mg% (80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or 0.08) or over who is operating a motor vehicle can be charged with a criminal offense. Yet, for most people impairment starts much below that level. That is why some believe that lowering the per se limit in the Criminal Code to 0.05 will reduce deaths and injuries from impaired driving. All provinces except Quebec already have short-term administrative roadside suspensions at 0.05 or lower. The procedure is simple and can be carried out by police officers at the side of the road. If necessary and deemed warranted by the officer, the vehicle is towed and stored at the driver's expense. Some provinces have licence reinstatement fees and requirements for assessment and treatment in the case of repeat suspensions. These administrative measures are effective tools in the fight against impaired driving, in part because they provide swift and certain punishment. Would eliminating these successful administrative sanctions in favor of criminal sanctions at the 0.05 level have a beneficial impact on road safety? A study sponsored by the Canada Safety Council found that Canada's law is among the strictest in the developed world for BAC offenses (Safety Canada, April 2002). In most countries, drivers with BACs below 0.08 are simply fined. Where license suspensions are possible, they tend to be much shorter in other countries than in Canada. BACs of 0.05 and lower are addressed mostly in motor vehicle acts with offenses such as speeding - not in criminal law alongside murder, robbery, and sexual assault, as would be the case in Canada if the federal BAC limit were lowered to 0.05. A study by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), released in May 2002, found that lowering the BAC limit, in and of itself, would not have a substantial impact on the incidence of impaired driving or alcohol-related crashes. The study concluded that simply having and enforcing a per se BAC limit, regardless of the level, is an efficient and effective way to deal with the impaired driving problem. The actual value of the BAC level may make little difference in the overall context of policies, programs and procedures implemented to enforce it. Canada has seen a strong downward trend in deaths related to impaired driving, including a 30% drop between 1995 and 1999. The nature of the problem is now quite different from 20 years ago. Today, the majority of drivers involved in alcohol-related fatal crashes typically have BACs over 0.15 - about twice the legal limit. The TIRF study maintains that if these offenders don't obey existing BAC limits, it would be simplistic and naive to expect them to comply with a lower limit. From the Canada Safety Council's perspective, resources are urgently needed to make existing laws work more effectively. New countermeasures should target the chronic high-BAC offender. The 110 page report, entitled The Safety Impact of Lowering the BAC Limit for Drivers in Canada, can be downloaded from TIRF's Web site. © 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