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New laws save lives: study

A new study suggests that while changes to British Columbia’s drunk driving laws have been controversial, they may also be linked to a drop in fatal car crashes and hospital admissions.

According to CTV Vancouver, researchers from the University of British Columbia contend that the harsher penalties for impaired driving and speeding, that came into effect in September 2010 in BC, have led to fewer crashes. Since then, they say:

  • car crashes have declined 21 per cent
  • crash-related hospital admissions have dropped 8 per cent
  • crash-related ambulance calls have fallen by 7.2 per cent

They also estimate that each year since 2010, there have been:

  • 84 fewer fatal crashes
  • 308 fewer hospital admissions
  • 2,553 fewer ambulance calls for road trauma

BC amended its Motor Vehicle Act in 2010 lowering the prohibited blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers to .05 per cent.

The province also has some of Canada's toughest roadside impaired driving penalties. First-time offenders caught with a BAC between .05 per cent and .08 per cent, can have their driver’s licence suspended on the spot for three days, and have their vehicle impounded for three days. Drivers with a BAC higher than .08 per cent can have their licence suspended for 90 days, in addition to facing Criminal Code charges.

In the first year of the new laws, commonly described as the toughest in Canada, more than 15,000 immediate roadside bans were issued for people who failed a breathalyzer or refused to blow into the device.

That prompted many drivers to take legal action, and led to a B.C. court ruling parts of the legislation unconstitutional. That was overturned by the provincial court of appeal.

The lead author of this latest study, Dr. Jeffrey Brubacher, who is an emergency room physician at Vancouver Coastal Health and a researcher with the VCH Research Institute, admits the new laws have been controversial. But he says his team's findings suggest the new rules have also led to "marked improvements" in road safety.

Dr. Brubacher's previous research found that in the year after the changes took effect, there was a 40 per-cent drop in alcohol-related fatal crashes, and a 23 per-cent decrease in alcohol-related collisions causing injury.

This study asserts that based on those numbers and the latest figures, enforcement of the new laws along with media coverage have been responsible for the reduced number of fatal crashes and hospital admissions – and not other factors.

“We hope that other jurisdictions will follow B.C.’s lead in implementing similar laws designed to deter dangerous driving," Brubacher said in a statement.

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