New BC penalties could leave trucks impounded

LANGLEY, B.C. — Come the end of September, B.C. is going to be a lot tougher on motorists who drink and drive, and that includes commercial vehicles.

On Sept. 20, changes to the province’s Motor Vehicle Act will make penalties for impaired driving stricter, as well as call for vehicle impoundment.

Originally, the B.C. Trucking Association tried to have commercial vehicles exempt from impoundment if the vehicle was not being driven by the registered owner. Although the provincial government denied the exemption, a response from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General noted that the enforcement officer has discretion to impound the vehicle for three days (first infraction) or seven days (second infraction) and that if a driver is not operating his or her own vehicle it is unlikely that the vehicle will be impounded.

The BCTA does support enforcement of regulations intended to reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes in B.C. and is just trying to ensure that commercial carriers are not unfairly penalized when one of their drivers is found to be impaired while operating a company vehicle.

The association is working with the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles and its police liaison officer to develop guidelines and best practices for companies operating commercial vehicles, in order to mitigate their risk under the new impaired driving and vehicle impoundment provisions.

The provincial government formally approved the new provisions on July 28. Penalties for drivers in different impairment ranges are summarized as follows:

– Drivers who provide a failing breath sample above 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content (BAC) or refuse to provide a breath sample at the roadside will face an immediate, 90-day driving ban and a $500 fine. As well, the vehicle they were driving will be impounded for 30 days. Criminal charges may also be laid.
– Drivers caught once in the “warn” range (between 0.05 and 0.08 percent BAC) in a five-year period will face an immediate, three-day driving ban and a $200 fine; a second time, a seven-day ban and a $300 fine; and a third time, a 30-day ban and a $400 fine. In the first two cases, drivers may or may not lose their vehicles for the duration of the ban; in the final case, they will definitely see their vehicle impounded. In all cases they will have to pay related towing and storage fees.

According to the provincial government, research shows a BAC in the warn range means a driver is seven times more likely to be in a fatal crash than if they have no alcohol in their body.

In addition, drivers who blow once in the "fail" range, or three times within five years in the "warn" range, will be required to participate in the rehabilitative Responsible Driver Program. They must also use an ignition interlock device, which tests a driver’s breath for alcohol every time they operate their vehicle, for one year.

A less-publicized penalty is related to driving with excessive speed. Any vehicle being operated 40 km/hr over the posted speed limit must be immediate impounded, regardless of whether it is being driven by the registered owner, for seven days.

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