As many as 1,200 B.C. drivers who were penalized for drunk driving in the weeks before the province’s impaired law was deemed unconstitutional might have some of their penalties overturned.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond said that could mean some people flagged for impaired driving won’t have to follow through with referrals to safe-driving classes or ignition-interlock systems.
“At this point, we don’t yet know how many of the 1,200 drivers will see a change in their referral. However, I can tell you the [superintendent of motor vehicles] is assessing these records individually and exercising his discretion about whether drivers are referred,” Bond said in a statement to the Times Colonist.
“That said, I understand that some drivers may not have to proceed with their remedial program.”
At issue are immediate roadside prohibitions given to impaired drivers in mid to late November 2011, just before the B.C. Supreme Court struck down part of the law on Nov. 30.
Most of the penalties, including police-issued roadside driving prohibitions, vehicle impoundment and fines, won’t change.
But the authority for government to force so-called “discretionary” penalties, such as safe driving classes and ignition interlock systems, is in dispute.
Seventeen drivers have filed court petitions arguing they shouldn’t be subject to training and interlock programs, with some saying the penalties were unconstitutional at the time. The government changed the law to address the court ruling seven months later.
Bond said superintendent of motor vehicles Steve Martin will examine the five-year driving record of each of the 1,200 drivers to see if the penalties should be waived. That’s expected to take five weeks, with letters then mailed to drivers.
The government might have to refund money and reinstate cancelled driver’s licences.
The responsible-driver program, which runs eight to 16 hours over three months, costs almost $1,000.
An ignition interlock system — which consists of a breathalyzer-type device that disables a vehicle if alcohol is detected — costs about $1,700.
Government officials said Monday it’s too soon to tell if some people who unnecessarily completed the courses would get money back.
However, the government confirmed that some drivers who refused to follow through with the programs had their driver’s licences revoked — and it’s possible some of those licences might have to be reinstated.
The majority of the 1,200 cases involve drivers who registered a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.08, said Stephanie Melvin, deputy superintendent of motor vehicles.
More than 35,000 people have been penalized since the drunk-driving law went into effect in September 2010.
“I can tell you that we're not for one minute going to back off our aggressive impaired-driving sanctions,” said Bond.
“We’re going to be fair and review their files, but the reason we amended the legislation was to continue doing what it takes to keep impaired drivers off the road.”
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