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Good intentions

Everyone agrees we need to stop drunk driving. But Ottawa’s new impaired driving laws open the doors to intrusive, unfair, and even inaccurate results

It was 1983, shortly after the "seatbelt checks” came into effect in B.C.

A family friend visiting from Alberta, where there were no seatbelt checks yet, was driving my girlfriend and I around Tsawwassen in my parent’s Cordova, as you do.

We were a bunch of teens feeling the freedom of having “a driver.” The timing is key here, as I vividly recall climbing into the humungous gas-guzzler, joking “you’re in BC now, so you need to buckle up!”

Click-click — a somewhat joking statement that would prove life-saving.

Little did we know that, had we not been strapped in, within the hour we most certainly would have flown headlong through the windshield.

We were “centre punched” or t-boned by a pickup truck driven by a lone occupant. After we were hit, stunned and smelling gas while hearing the buzz from the radio, I looked up in time to realize we survived a total wreck and saw the shadow of that man pop open his driver-side door and run from the scene.

Ours was a small town. We all knew the truck and the driver.

His friends knew the party he’d been at. They knew he had no business getting behind the wheel.

When officers tracked him down, they said that there was “little that they could do other than charge him with leaving the scene” of the accident.

Investigation proved he had crossed a double yellow line around a blind corner and was at fault. Our three witness statements confirmed there was only one person in his truck – he destroyed that huge car and could have killed the three of us.

And yet, even though he had a bag packed ready to head to jail, he walked away without the DUI thanks to the technicality of no breathalyzer at the scene – OR AFTER.

Why do I tell this story? Well, having been involved in a car accident where the lone human in the at-fault vehicle, who was driving under the influence, walked away from all charges – I see the “new” zero tolerance impaired driving laws with a bit more “Middle.”

That said, the goalposts seem awfully far apart for responsible citizens to get caught up in this net.

It’s been almost a month since much stricter impaired driving laws were put in place in Canada. It’s a very hot topic, debated and discussed as either long overdue or a travesty.

The new law gives police wide-ranging powers in demanding sobriety tests, leaving drivers more than stirred – some are shaken.

The news hit big: officers no longer need “reasonable grounds” to suspect that you are impaired before demanding you submit to a breathalyzer test. Oh, and refusing the test can result in a criminal charge.

No problem, right? “If you are sober, what’s the downside of a test?” Well…it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Have you seen the story surface out of Ontario where a man went to his local Beer Store to drop off empties was stopped by police after departing?

They’d allegedly observed him exiting the store; he was pulled over and asked if he’d been drinking. Officers then demanded a breathalyzer test.

Some thought this story was a joke. It was not. It happened.

Beer Store profiling? Perhaps.

Taking a deeper look into the new legislation it’s more than a little invasive.

Police reserve the right to ask for a breath test from you in a bar…or even your home, within two hours of you operating a motor vehicle.

Some argue that the new rules are reasonable. Where things take a U-turn for many of us is the fine print: drinking within two hours of parking your car or boat could now also get you arrested if you are found to be over the legal .08 limit on a breathalyzer.

Um. No.

Sure, the government says that it’s not the “intent of the law” to arrest innocent partiers – but this law leaves room for exactly that.

Bill C-49 needs some serious middle. It is extreme.

As someone who grew up in a time where “one more martini before we hit the road” was a common thing, we’ve come a long way. We don’t go out on the town much these days, as driving isn’t an option — neither is a cab most nights — but if I did go out, and didn’t drink, and you came to my place two hours later on a weekend…I’d be over .08.

My story is scary as hell. I still smell the gas and hear the buzz. I cannot imagine what life is like for those who’ve lost loved ones in alcohol-involved motor vehicle accidents and have seen the drunk driver walk on a technicality.

It’s unacceptable.

Yes, our laws need to be better enforced; yes, there should be some way to close the “leave the scene” loophole. No, that loophole should not be so large that innocent citizens pay.

Time to find the middle on this law and make it stop the real issue: repeat offenders and those who use a shot of booze to hide from consequence.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.