Canada’s new impaired driving laws came into effect Tuesday amid concern that they’re another step away from the protection of civil liberties by introducing a method for police to screen without probable cause to do so.
There is little doubt that some law-abiding citizens will feel like their freedom has been infringed upon when asked to submit to a mandatory breath test and there’s also a likelihood that some people who wouldn’t have been detected before might be now. Undoubtedly, there will be court cases in the near future ruling on the admissibility of this new requirement. That will be a given.
On the surface, it’s easy to call this advancement an overreach. The question is whether a majority of Canadians believe it is a reasonable one. While RIDE programs also represent a stop and search where most people would not be reasonably expected to be driving impaired, most citizens have accepted them as normal practice they are subjected to in order to keep their roads safe. Certainly, there have been questions raised about other investigations conducted during those stoppages, but society hasn’t rebelled against the notion of the checkpoint. One only need to ask a family that has lost a loved one to a collision caused by an impaired driver to know that they’d have been grateful for anything that might have stopped that driver from being behind the wheel impaired and on the road at the time they were.
If this law helps take impaired drivers off the roads, there’s a positive element. If anything, it sends a signal to those who have had alcohol or drugs to think twice about getting behind the wheel at all because there’s always that threat of having to blow and not passing. It might make more people air on the side of caution and that’s a good thing. A trick, of course, is that alcohol and drugs impair everyone differently and there may have to be some more education about blood/alcohol content. People who may have driven before might not want to today out of an abundance of caution. That may chill some operating within the law, but it also helps create better awareness.
Police action is also an important piece of this equation. As intended, the law is foremost a deterrent, and secondly it provides them a tool to be able to administer a test without having to meticulously document reasons to do so. That said, there’s nothing requiring a police officer to demand a breath sample. Most have been trained to detect signs of impairment. Tests are costly and time consuming. One would think they’d still use their best judgment while making roadside stops. Some have suggested the new law may open the door to racial or community profiling. The previous laws could be manipulated in a similar fashion. It all comes back to building trust and a rapport where citizens believe the police are doing acting in the interest of their protection. Iff their actions appear to be an overreach, the public will press for change.
Ultimately, Canadians must remember that driving is not an unlimited freedom. Roads are public assets, in place for the benefit of all, and driving a motor vehicle on them is subject to a series of conditions. The public interest is best served when those roads are kept safe and mandatory roadside screenings can help. Those who have been responsible and who are aware of their responsibilities to operate vehicles with care likely won’t mind this intrusion. It’s in their best interest to stop dangerous driving before it impacts them directly.