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Why Would Alberta Consider Decriminalising Drunk Driving?

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According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, an average of four Canadians lose their lives to drunk drivers every day. However, the famous safety organisation has proposed a policy that they believe will help save lives — decriminalizing drunk driving.

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A different approach

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According to Andrew Murie, the CEO of MADD Canada, the current system just punishes offenders without doing anything to prevent them from driving impaired again. The organization has worked hard to decriminalize drunk driving on a national scale but has recently turned its attention to Alberta.

Currently, drunk drivers in Alberta are liable to face fines, vehicle seizure, and jail time, all of which leave a nasty mark on their records.

Our organisation is all about stopping deaths, not punishing people,” Murie stated.

Other provinces, including Manitoba and British Columbia, have taken novel approaches to combating drunk driving. Instead of hitting impaired drivers with criminal charges, these provinces give officers the discretion to revoke licenses and impound vehicles. In severe cases, drunk drivers may face criminal charges, but that isn’t the norm.

British Columbia’s policies have been in place for about a decade. Murie credits these changes for the 50-percent decrease in the province’s alcohol-related deaths.

“That’s an incredible accomplishment that hasn’t been accomplished anywhere else in the world. We have way more people alive today than if BC hadn’t changed their system,” Murie stated.

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Controversy abounds

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As with any proposed policy change, MADD Canada’s proposed policy change has attracted some controversy. Kyla Lee, an attorney who specializes in drunk driving cases, argues that BC’s new rules haven’t been the sole cause of the reduced death rate. Instead, she argues that increased driver awareness and media coverage have saved lives.

Lee also points out a hidden cost to BC’s new rules — these administrative punishments can be devastating for low-income drivers.

“I’ve had people who’ve lost their jobs, lost their homes,” Lee explained.

That said, Lee and Murie both agree that an ideal policy would address the underlying causes of drunk driving, rather than funneling impaired drivers through the criminal justice system.

Currently, Alberta hasn’t made any final decisions about its impaired driving policies. The province only states that it’s considering a wide variety of approaches to address drunk driving.