The B.C. government has quietly softened its penalties for suspected drunk drivers, and the change could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Previously, motorists who failed a roadside breathalyzer test were automatically forced to have an ignition interlock system installed on their car and enroll in the Responsible Driver Program.

If drivers refused either penalty, they were not allowed to apply to get their driver’s licences back.

But last week, the province updated its website to say that participation in either program “may be required” for drivers whose blood alcohol content registers above .08. It also indicates police will be giving all suspected drunk drivers information about how to have the penalties reconsidered.

The motorists are still hit with an immediate 90-day driving ban, 30-day vehicle impoundment and $1,430 in fees, however.

Paul Doroshenko, a lawyer representing several alleged drunk drivers, said the B.C. government went too far when it implemented its stringent new impairment laws in September 2010.

“They’ve botched this entire thing right from the beginning,” Doroshenko said. “It was a revolutionary change. When you have a revolutionary change it rarely works the way that you intend. They really made a huge mistake.”

The interlock devices, which disable vehicles if they detect alcohol, cost $1,700 while the education program runs suspected drunk drivers another $880.

Before the latest change, drivers who blew over .08 could expect to pay roughly $4,000 altogether.

Doroshenko said he’s planning to launch a class action lawsuit on behalf of the suspected drunk drivers who paid the full amount and never had a chance to have their penalties reviewed, and it could cost the government millions.

“They’ve acknowledged that they screwed up,” he said. “They are likely going to have to pay people back.”

The Ministry of Justice told CTV News it is also reviewing the records of 36,000 suspected drunk drivers who didn’t pay to get the interlock device, and couldn’t’ get their licences back.

They will be notified in the new few weeks if they can once again drive.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Mi-Jung Lee