Province toughens up drinking and driving

Should government also increase the minimum legal drinking age?

Last week the province announced that new regulations are in place to clarify and toughen the consequences of drinking and drug affected driving in British Columbia.

Under the new program, drivers with certain serious prohibitions for drinking and drug affected driving are now required to participate in mandatory remedial programs.

Once a mandatory referral is made, drivers will be required to participate in the responsible driver program, which focuses on education and counselling, and/or the ignition interlock program, for which a device is installed in the vehicle to prevent drivers from driving if they have consumed alcohol.

Mike Morris, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said these measures will help both deter and prevent unsafe drivers from getting back on B.C. roads.

“Let me be clear. If you are caught drinking and driving and therefore putting your life and the lives of others at risk, it will cost you,” said Morris. “Driving while affected by alcohol or drugs is reckless and selfish behaviour for which this province has no tolerance.”

The new regulations apply to drivers caught driving while affected by drugs or alcohol who accumulate between six to 16 remedial program points within five years. There is no reconsideration process for mandatory referrals.

But should government also consider increasing the minimum legal drinking age?

At present time, the minimum legal drinking age is 18 years of age in Alberta, Manitoba, and Québec, and 19 years in the rest of Canada.

Recently, the Canadian Public Health Association and a national expert-panel working group not only recommended that the legal drinking age be raised to at least 19 years, but also identified 21 years as the ideal.

A new study led by a northern medical program researcher supports the position that raising the minimum legal drinking age would likely reduce alcohol-impaired driving crimes.

The study shows that alcohol-impaired driving crimes spike immediately after the minimum legal drinking age is reached.

“As soon as youth are given legal access to alcohol, there are immediate effects on the road,” said Dr. Russ Callaghan, the study`s lead author and an associate professor in the northern medical program.

In the study, published this month in the international journal ‘Addiction,’ Callaghan and his research team looked at national Canadian police-reported crime statistics between 2009 and 2013.

The team found that drivers just older than the legal age had significant increases in commission of alcohol-impaired driving crimes compared to those immediately under the restriction. Release from drinking-age restrictions was associated with increases in alcohol-impaired driving offenses perpetrated by young drivers in Canada, ranging from 28-43 per cent among males and 19-40 per cent among females.

Callaghan said the research provides current information for both Canadian and international policymakers to draw on when considering alcohol policy reform and the effectiveness of minimum legal drinking age legislation.