November 29, 2018

The Province of Manitoba has announced tougher sanctions for those who get behind the wheel drunk, as well as new options for police who catch first-time offenders.

Under the proposed new law, drivers under the influence of alcohol who register a ‘warn’ on an approved screening device will face a new monetary penalty of at least $200 for a first offence, escalating to at least $400 for a third or subsequent offence within ten years.

An approved screening device is used to test breath and administered at roadside, indicating whether a driver is in the pass, warn or fail range. It does not give blood alcohol levels like a breathalyzer.

Drivers who register in the ‘warn’ range, which suggests a blood alcohol content of between 0.05 and 0.08, would also have their vehicles impounded a minimum of three days for a first offence and 30 days for a third or subsequent offence/

Drivers caught in the ‘warn’ range a third or subsequent time would also be forced to drive with an ignition interlock system for one year. These sanctions would be on top of the current legislation.

For a ‘warn’ range driver, costs associated with the impound fee, towing fee, ignition interlock system, and reinstatement fee would add up to a minimum of $2,600 for a first offence to around $3,200 for a third.

For first time drunk drivers who register a ‘fail’ on an approved screening device, which indicates their blood alcohol content is above 0.08, who cause no bodily harm or death will now face a new option at the discretion of the police officer.

Police can stick the driver with a minimum $500 penalty, as well as a mandatory ignition interlock system for one year, as opposed to proceeding with a criminal charge.

The province said the new sanctions are comparable to those applied post-conviction and would be applied on top of the existing pre-conviction sanctions which include a 90 day suspension, 30 day vehicle impoundment, and mandatory Addictions Foundation of Manitoba assessment or remedial program required for all first time drunk drivers who blow a fail.

The minimum cost for a ‘fail’ would be more than $3,300 if the officer chooses to go with the new sanctions rather than lay criminal charges, which require a breathalyzer.

The province said it is at the officer’s discretion and they can choose to bring the first time drunk driver in for a breathalyzer, which would result in criminal proceedings.

For drunk drivers who register a ‘fail’ for a third or subsequent time a breathalyzer is mandatory. The new ‘fail’ sanctions would only be an option for first time offenders.

According to the province, the new sanctions would free up a significant amount of time for officers – time they say could be used to catch more drunk drivers.

Under the new approach, the province said roadside testing can be completed in as little as six minutes and after sanctions are handed down, the whole process would only take about 30 minutes. That’s compared with an average of four hours spent taking a driver down to a police station and using a breathalyzer, as the driver has a right to an attorney.

British Columbia introduced similar sanctions in 2010. According to the province, B.C.’s legislation has been upheld in the Supreme Court of Canada.

The province also said the ‘Immediate Roadside Prohibition’ approach to drunk driving has decreased alcohol-related fatalities in B.C. by 50 per cent and injuries have gone down nearly 25 per cent. It said Mothers Against Drunk Driving strongly supported B.C.’s model.

Last year in Manitoba drunk driving accounted for 32 per cent of road fatalities. So far this year 28 people in Manitoba have died in alcohol-related collisions.

Once proclaimed, amendments will be made to The Highway Traffic Act and will also include a province-wide public education campaign by Manitoba Public Insurance to emphasize the costs of driving drunk.