B.C. boosts breathalyzer threshold from .05 to .06
Darcy Wintonyk, ctvbc.ca
Published Friday, November 19, 2010 3:02PM PST
Police in B.C. are re-calibrating thousands of handheld breathalyzer devices from .05 to .06 in hopes of removing any doubt about the accuracy of their readings.
Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham, head of traffic safety for the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police, said 2,200 of the devices will be taken out of rotation for the next 10 days.
The devices will now trigger at .06 instead of .05.
Under tough new drinking and driving laws enacted in September, B.C. drivers with a blood alcohol level of between .05 and .08 – a warn reading -- face a three-day roadside prohibition and a $200 fine. Blowing .08 and above – a fail reading -- can see drivers without their cars for 90 days and paying fines ranging from $600 to $4,060.
Graham said evidence given to him by the RCMP crime lab shows that the calibration on some breathalyzers could be off by as high as one per cent.
"So we have to ensure that if you blow a warn on this instrument you're above 50 milligrams. The statistical probability of that happening is very, very slim but we think this is important to make this adjustment," he said.
Supt. Warren Lemcke said drivers caught blowing between .05 and .08 during the transition will be given a break, but the devices will be back on the streets in time for the launch of provincial Christmas Counter Attack programs on Dec. 1.
"While these are being adjusted, those three, seven and 30-day suspensions … will not take place unless you blow a fail. In 10 days it's business as usual," he told reporters in Vancouver Friday morning.
The B.C. restaurant and bar industry says the stricter new drunk driving penalties are killing their business, saying customers are unsure about how much they can drink before safely getting behind the wheel.
"There are guys who are going out of business because of this. People don't even want to go out because they just don't know," said Ian Tostenson, CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, which represents more than 750 restaurants
Earlier this month, Solicitor General Rich Coleman told CTV News he was pondering a change in the new legislation, saying the immediate roadside prohibitions were inconveniencing a lot of people.
Coleman worried many police detachments weren't given enough training about how to use discretion when issuing fines and driving bans.
Still not enough
Tostenson said while a marginal increase in blood alcohol tolerance is step in the right direction to help return consumer confidence, it's not enough to make any significant difference to people in his industry.
Tostenson feels the government needs to target chronic drunk drivers and people blowing well over .08, and have more flexibility for the "responsible drinkers" who blow within the warning zone.
"Today's announcement might help someone who is at 4.999 [milligrams] but you need to drive home a distinction between someone who is responsible between .05 and .08 and targeting chronic drunk drivers over .08," he said.
"You need to get the bad guys."
Graham insists the changes came into his purview just a week ago during routine discussions with government officials about the current laws and legal policies.
He said the close scrutiny over the crime-fighting tools is necessary because of the increased use of ASDs to prosecute drunk drivers.
"We have to be able to ensure that a young officer [who] has one of these ASDs that the readings are 100 per cent guaranteed … and we didn't have that. There was always that slim margin of error the reading could be slightly lower."