I am writing this column in early December, just as we head into the 2004-2005 holiday season. That, of course, means that right now the news frequently includes the latest statistics of the "Alberta Checkstop" program, which sees increased resources dedicated each year around this time.
As any police officer would tell you, though, impaired driving is a danger--and a crime--all year-round. Despite the additional attention paid to this hazard of our roadways around Christmas and the New Year celebrations, the carnage caused by drunk driving occurs every month of the year without much distinction or difference. Whether it is Christmas, New Year's, or the middle of summer, some people drink and then drive, and other people are killed or injured as a result.
One of the groups which works to combat the crime of impaired driving is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). A few years ago, I received a mass-mailing request for a contribution to this organization. It included a heartfelt letter written by the mother of a young woman who had been killed in a crash caused by someone who had too much to drink and then tried to drive home. As I pondered the details of that crime, I thought as well of the various persons who had sat in my office from time to time, charged with impaired driving. A not-so-small number of them were individuals with no criminal history, who found themselves in a situation where they, in all good faith, had thought they were okay to drive, only to end up facing criminal charges when a police officer determined that they were "over the legal limit". Most people in that situation are ultimately convicted because the law stipulates, in general, that as long as you consumed the intoxicating substance voluntarily, once you get behind the wheel and take control of the vehicle, you have committed the prohibited act (having care of a vehicle, or driving, while your ability is impaired or while your blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit). Your good faith, honest belief that you were still okay is no defence.
In Alberta, persons convicted of their first impaired-driving offence suffer the loss of their driving privileges (and the courts have repeatedly and consistently told us that they are privileges and not rights) for at least one year. However, the Criminal Code now permits the installation of a device in the vehicle of the offender which will prevent the automobile from starting if there is too much alcohol in the blood...