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Stricter drunk driving laws to hit Grande Prairie streets

Traffic in Grande Prairie will have to deal with stricter drunk driving laws starting Tuesday. A new federal law will come into effect that gives police officers the right to ask for a breath sample from any driver they legally pull over.

Currently, they have to have reasonable suspicion that someone has been drinking. Sergeant Shawn Graham says the law gives officers an extra tool in keeping impaired drivers off the road.

“It’s based on research which suggests that more than, say, 50 per cent of drivers with blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit are not detected at roadside check stops. So this mandatory alcohol screening is going to assist in deterring alcohol-impaired driving.”

Mounties will still have to have a legal reason for the traffic stop, such as a traffic violation or to check for a valid licence and vehicle registration. However, if the officer has a breathalyzer, demands a breath sample and the driver refuses, they will be charged. Refusal to provide a breath sample comes with the same penalties as an impaired driving charge.

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“It’s currently authorized in numerous other countries worldwide,” adds Graham, “and they’ve seen success.”

When it comes to drug-impaired driving, not much has changed for police since recreational marijuana became legal. Graham says RCMP were already using standardized field sobriety tests, drug recognition evaluation and blood tests, and an oral fluid screener.

“There’s just some new tools that will be used to help assist the police with determining if they’re impaired, but we’ve had programs in place already that are there to deal with that.”

Roadside testing devices are being tried out, but haven’t yet been approved for use. Crashes involving alcohol or drugs are considered the leading criminal cause of death in Canada, and Graham stresses that they are avoidable and preventable.

“People always have options: stay over where they’re at, designate a driver, call a cab, use a ridesharing service. Driving impaired is never worth the risk.”

Bill C-46 also increases the maximum penalties for many alcohol-impaired driving offences from five years to 10.

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