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Canadian lawyers argue for law reform on drink driving

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Drink driving will remain the leading criminal cause of death and a leading cause of injury in Canada, unless the blood alcohol limit for driving under federal law is lowered to 0.05%, Canadian lawyers argue.

Every year drink driving costs the country $1.5–10bn. A federal law dating back to 1969 set the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for driving at 0.08%—the 0.08% Criminal Code. In 1999 parliament rejected petitions for a 0.05 limit, for lack of supporting scientific evidence and expert agreement and for imagined enforcement difficulties.

Such arguments are ill founded, say the lawyers. A wealth of scientific evidence displays how alcohol diminishes key driving skills at BACs ⩽0.05%. A 0.05% enforced limit in many countries has become an acknowledged deterrent with fewer alcohol fuelled crashes, deaths, and injuries. Supposed difficulties enforcing a lower limit are questionable too, with inflated resource estimates, underestimated cost savings, and overstated practical problems administering the system.

Some dismiss a 0.05% Criminal Code offence as unnecessary and unworkable when provincial and territorial laws enforcing a 0.05% BAC already exist. Driving with a BAC>0.05% is not illegal under these laws, however, and they cannot have the same deterrence value as a federal offence carrying a fine, driving ban, and a criminal record. Neither would a 0.05% Criminal Code conflict with provincial laws because the threshold for charging drivers under federal law would be pitched around 0.07% BAC.

In 2001 Canada’s federal government pledged to make its roads the safest anywhere. How it can do so remains to be seen.