Pubdate: Wed, 20 Sep 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: David Reevely
Page: 4


The impending legalization of marijuana has the Ontario government
planning to toughen the penalties for driving drunk, not just stoned.

The changes, announced by Premier Kathleen Wynne and Transportation
Minister Steven Del Duca Monday morning, will particularly affect
drivers under age 21, novice drivers with limited licences and
commercial drivers. None of them will be permitted to have any alcohol
or cannabis in their systems if they're driving, and violations will
be treated with harsher roadside punishments - steeper cash penalties
and, in some cases, longer driving suspensions.

Technically, these are "administrative penalties," not fines, which
means police can apply them unilaterally, on the spot.

"Let me be clear: Driving while impaired is not acceptable and will
not be tolerated," Del Duca said at the Queen's Park news conference,
his manner grim.

In Ontario, cases of impaired driving have been declining. Between
2008 and 2014, the last year for which the province has published
complete figures, the number of criminal convictions for impaired
driving fell from about 7,000 to about 3,400. The number of roadside
licence suspensions declined from about 17,600 to about 13,600.

But the trailblazer in North America everyone looks to is Colorado,
which legalized recreational marijuana in 2014 and has seen the number
of road fatalities involving drivers with cannabis in their systems
more than double.

So, first thing, no pot at all for youth drivers, those with graduated
licences, or at the wheels of commercial vehicles. They'll test your
spit with a (yet-to-be-approved) cannabis-detection device and if they
find any, it'll mean a three-day licence suspension on the spot, a
$250 not-a-fine fine and possible referral for re-education.
Graduated-licence drivers might have to start over again. Being caught
a second time will mean a seven-day suspension and a $350 penalty; a
third time will mean a 30-day suspension and $450 penalty.

The reason for treating novice and younger drivers more harshly is
that they're more likely to get into collisions and especially need
their wits about them, the government says. Commercial drivers are
more likely to pilot larger, heavier vehicles that can do more harm in
a crash.

The same penalties will apply to all drivers with blood-alcohol
readings over 0.05 and those who fail sobriety tests because of any
kind of intoxication. That toughens the current financial penalty of
$198. And drivers caught with blood-alcohol readings over 0.08 will
face the same 90-day suspensions they do now, but increased financial
penalties of $550.

Toughening the drunk-driving penalties at the same time as bringing in
new drugged-driving rules is meant to make them easier to remember and
understand, Del Duca said, because there won't be one set of penalties
for alcohol and one for pot.

The transportation minister was the designated heavy, taking up the
role shared by the finance minister, health minister and attorney
general in a similar presentation about a week ago on how Ontario will
sell pot. The subtext of all four ministerial performances has been
that they're doing this because the feds are making them and they
really hate it.

This is a new frontier. How, for instance, are drivers who are allowed
to have smoked a little pot to know just how stoned they can expect to
get? That'll take education and a clear labelling regime for how
strong different strains of pot are. Even so, people are notoriously
bad at judging how drunk they get.

"There's a lot of work yet to be done and potency is one part of
that," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said.
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