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Province wants crackdown on unsafe drivers

Oct 07 2012

B.C.'s justice minister wants to crack down on dangerous drivers by hitting them with the same stiff fines, vehicle seizures and licence suspensions that the government already uses against drunk drivers.

Shirley Bond said she's "extraordinarily frustrated" with drivers who have a history of chronic speeding, dangerous driving and other motor vehicle offences.

"At the end of the day, driving is a privilege, and we need to figure out how to make it clear if you are going to consistently be an offender, we're going to find a way to deal with that," Bond said in an interview.

The B.C. government passed get-tough legislation on drunk drivers in 2010. The law lets police immediately penalize impaired drivers - even those with a blood-alcohol level in the warn range, below the legal limit - with licence suspensions of up to 90 days, fines and fees costing hundreds of dollars, and vehicle seizures.

Drivers can also be ordered to attend counselling or install an ignition interlock system at a cost of as much as $2,000.

Premier Christy Clark has praised the law as an extraordinary success, though critics have called it an unconstitutional bypass of a person's right to a fair trial in the court system.

Bond said she has asked B.C.'s superintendent of motor vehicles, Steve Martin, to explore how the impaired roadside prohibitions could be used against drivers who continue to rack up tickets for unsafe driving and speeding.

"We do a really good job with our impaired drivers in changing their behaviour," Martin said.

"But one of the things we'll see is there will be a fatality and you'll look back at that person's driving record and over 20 years, they've amassed a significant number of driving points, or interactions, or motor vehicle incidents."

Just banning a person from driving doesn't work without education and counselling, he said.

Bond began pushing for changes earlier this year, amid outrage over a YouTube video that showed a man on a motorcycle speeding down the Trans-Canada Highway outside Victoria, weaving in and out of traffic at almost 300 kilometres an hour.

She said she's also considering publishing the driving records of chronic offenders, though such a move would require changing B.C.'s privacy law and careful consultation with the independent privacy commissioner.

No matter what changes are introduced, there will still be drivers who ignore the rules and get behind the wheel with no licence at all, Bond said.

Victoria police Chief Jamie Graham agreed.

"To you or I, not having a licence is a serious matter, but I can tell you there's a large segment of bad drivers where that's irrelevant," he said.

B.C.'s police chiefs haven't formally asked the government to crack down on chronic dangerous drivers, but think it could be a good idea, said Graham, who chairs a police traffic-safety committee.

The drunk-driving prohibitions have been "amazing" at changing behaviour and reducing deaths, Graham said. Police have been looking for stiffer sentences from the courts for drivers who flagrantly disregard traffic safety or drive without licences, he said.

"Should the superintendent's office come forward with alternatives to convince people to obey the rules, we'd always be in favour of that," he said.

But not everyone likes the idea. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which has previously said the impaired-driving law gives police too much power for roadside penalties, urged caution.

"Our organization believes firmly in the principle that as punishments escalate, so should the opportunity for people to defend themselves if police make a bad call at the side of the road," said executive director David Eby.

The government has already had to change the appeals process in its impaired driving law after a successful court challenge.

Bond said she would use "a great deal of caution" in any future legislation. She said she doesn't have a timeline on when government could finalize the new penalties against dangerous drivers. rshaw@timescolonist.com

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