Pubdate: Tue, 19 Sep 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Jennifer Bieman
Page: A2


Zero-tolerance rules for drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol
applauded by police

A blast from the past - and jacked-up fines - will usher in legal pot
in Ontario as the province races to put the brakes to drug-impaired
driving, including by marijuana, before weed becomes legal next summer.

With the federal Liberals vowing to legalize recreational marijuana
use by July of next year, the governing Ontario Liberals are gunning
for harsh penalties and hefty new fines to hit impaired drivers. The
language of the tough new rules announced Monday, with its emphasis on
zero tolerance, is reminiscent of an era more than 30 years ago when
then-president Ronald Reagan amped up the U.S. war on drugs.

Ontario is vowing zero tolerance for drug-or alcohol-impaired drivers
21 and younger, novice drivers and all commercial drivers. Young and
novice drivers, who now only face a 24-hour licence suspension and no
fines if they're caught with alcohol or drugs in their system, would
be slapped with suspensions from three to 30 days and fines from $250
to $450.

Motorists within the so-called warning range, with a blood-alcohol
level between 0.05 and 0.08, or drug-impaired drivers who fail a
roadside sobriety test - will face the same fines and

The warning range fine is now $198.

Other drivers deemed by experts as impaired by drugs, ones caught with
a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 and any who fail or refuse a sobriety
test, would face a 90-day licence suspension and a $550 fine - a
nearly three-fold jump from the $198 set fine now.

Mandatory education or treatment programs also could be required for
repeat offenders.

The beefed-up penalties were applauded by Middlesex OPP Sgt. Dave
Rektor, who said 90 people were killed in Ontario crashes involving an
impaired driver on OPP-patrolled roads between 2015 and 2016.

"Drug impairment is just another form of impairment," he said. "It's
illegal and it's killing Ontarians."

But impairment - whether by pot or another substance - can be
difficult to pinpoint, said London marijuana activist Eric Shepperd,
who is skeptical that Ontario's move is the right approach.

"We still don't have a reliable test for impairment from cannabis and
many other drugs," he said.

"Adding more tough penalties to act as a deterrent, I see the intent
behind that, but the execution could easily have many innocent people
losing their licences and being fined very heavily."

The province said Monday the federal government will be approving a
screening device for cannabis and setting legal thresholds in the
coming months.

Regardless, Rektor said OPP officers complete special training to
detect whether drivers are under the influence of drugs. They can
require suspected impaired drivers to complete physical co-ordination
tests, submit to a drug evaluation test or provide blood, saliva or
urine samples for testing.

"If the driver fails or refuses any of the three demands, they can be
charged under the Criminal Code," Rektor said.

Carolyn Swinson of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada had high
praise for Ontario's proposed crackdown but said the challenge will be
to ensure police have the tools they need to lay charges that stick.

"This is a good step," Swinson said, adding she hopes the federal
government will approve a screening device and set legal benchmarks
for drug impairment.

"The provincial government has done one thing, but we need the federal
government to do the other."

Enforcement tools aside, the rules already on the books haven't
eliminated drunk driving, said Carol Raymond, owner of Drivewise London.

The driving instructor, whose business teaches an average 500 students
each year, said police are already busy cracking down on people
distracted behind the wheel. Despite the tough new proposed penalties,
she's worried recreational marijuana legalization will create a lot
more problems on the road.

"I just think it's going to create more havoc than anything," she

"People in general don't listen now . . . I don't know how this is
going to help anything."

Monday's announcement comes just 10 days after the governing Liberals
announced their plan to sell recreational pot in 150 dedicated stores
overseen by the liquor control board. The province also is planning to
set the legal age to buy marijuana at 19.

- - With files by Canadian Press and Dale Carruthers, Free Press

- -------------------------------------------------------


Ontario's impaired driving legislation

Young and novice drivers:

(Under 21-years-old or beginner class drivers)

Current: 24-hour licence suspension, no fine

Proposed: Three-to 30-day licence suspension, $250 to $450 fine

Warning range:

(Between 0.05 and 0.08 blood alcohol level or failed roadside sobriety

Current: Three-to 30-day licence suspension, $198 fine

Proposed: Three-to 30-day licence suspension, $250 to $450 fine

Over legal limit:

(Above 0.08 blood alcohol level or failed assessment by drug
impairment expert)

Current: 90-day licence suspension, $198 fine now

Proposed: 90-day licence suspension, $550 fine
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MAP posted-by: Matt