Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The breathalyzer scandal

Useful editorial from the Times Colonist:

"The news that poorly calibrated breathalyzer devices could have resulted in licence suspensions and fines for innocent drivers is alarming.

Answers are needed from Solicitor General Rich Coleman, not an unelected police spokesman.

Victoria police Chief Jamie Graham, acting as chairman of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police traffic safety committee, announced Friday that the 2,200 roadside testing devices in the province will be recalibrated.

"Recent" RCMP lab tests found a margin of error in the machines. The devices could indicate a driver's blood-alcohol level was over .05 -- the level at which provincial penalties can be imposed -- when he was under the limit.

The solution is to recalibrate the breathalyzers so a "warn" signal is obtained if the driver blows .06, recognizing the potential machine error.

The implications are huge. Since the new drinking and driving rules were introduced, about 170 British Columbians a week have faced three-day licence suspensions, vehicle impoundment and some $600 in fines and fees. That's more than 1,500 people, at least some of whom were potentially innocent.

But the impact is much greater. Since 1977, police have been issuing 24-hour suspensions based on the same roadside test. Some 150,000 people have been penalized in the past five years alone. Again, some apparently should not have been.

The latest effort to curb drinking and driving is welcome and appears to be working.

But concerns about the arbitrary nature of enforcement and the lack of an effective appeal process were raised well in advance of the new laws. Yet the government did not ensure enforcement was fair and reliable.

Police and government have known of the machines' margin of error for years. The "fail" signal, which indicates a driver is over .08, is actually triggered when a person blows 0.1 for that very reason. But they did not ensure accurate testing for the tens of thousands of drivers facing roadside justice.

Police have put the three-day suspensions on hold until the machines are fixed. But what of the drivers who have lost their licences, paid their fines and now have the offences on their records -- and who might have been innocent?

Government sloppiness has created injustice for some drivers and undermined confidence in a controversial measure."

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The T-C's editorial missed its mark.

The Real Breathalyzer Scandal

Gosh, what a coincidence.

Ex RCMP and now Solicitor General Rich Coleman publicly mulls rolling back new blood-alcohol level law. Coleman needs time to figure out a politically palatable way to flip flop on drunk driving while keeping his premiership hopes alive.

Lo and behold another ex horseman comes charging to the rescue in the form of Victoria police Chief Jamie Graham who declares that certain devices need to be taken off the streets for some time.

Who decided that the devices needed to be recalibrated? The RCMP.

Who's looking to keep their lucrative BC contract? The RCMP.

Too cute.

Anonymous said...

There are obviously a lot of folks who think they know that it is safe for them to drink and drive. It is not, and what's worse, they make the roads unsafe for me and mine. Zero tolerance should be the measure for driving any vehicle on a public road. It is a shame that so many restaurateurs have come to depend on the peddling of a drug, albeit legal, to make their living, and now feel compelled to make excuses for drinking drivers. That's too bad, but I don't see why their making a profit should trump another's right to safer roads and highways. Save yourself the angst and the headaches - don't drink and drive. But save your crocodile tears for all those drinking drivers who received a roadside suspension they were only under the influence by 0.0495 rather than 0.050. That's exactly the kind of rediculous hair-splitting that legal defense lawyers get paid for, and that resulted in the so very unsatisfactory status quo, prior to the recent and very welcome increased sanctions.

Raymond Graham

Ed Seedhouse said...

Any measuring device has a built in error, and that applies to blood level meters just as much as any other measuring instrument.

Since the law sets .05 as a special level the meter should have been set slightly higher than this to avoid having penalties for those who are under .05. There is a chance that someone at .049 could be improperly punished.

So moving to .06 seems like a good idea to me. It is just a fact of life that no measurement is free of possible error. Of course that should have been done first, not after an interval, and that seems to me to be where the mistake lies.

I am no friend of this government but let's not be unjust about this. As another poster says, if you have to wonder if you are at or over .05 then you just shouldn't drive, period.

Anonymous said...

Let’s be honest about what really happened here. The court system is in chaos. Not enough judges, cases being postponed, and now even hi-profile cases are being dismissed because of the lack of judges or available court time. And of course Mike de Jong does not want to put in any more money to fix the problem (that was all spent on Basi-Virk). But He does want to run for Premier apparently.

So what cases are most clogging up the court system? Drunk driving cases. The bread butter of a segment of the legal profession. These cases not only tie up a fair bit of the courts time, they also tie up the time of law enforcement who often waste time having to appear in court. The solution? Change the law, well really skirt the law by basically decriminalizing drunk driving. Drink as much as you want, you will NOT be charged criminally, you will instead get a mandatory 90 day suspension, a 30 day vehicle impoundment and roughly $ 4,000 in fines and other costs.

Sounds like a perfect solution ? The only problem of course is that the new penalties never see the courtroom. Your average three years of experience twenty something police officer now get’s to be judge, jury, and executioner. And if they had a bad day, don’t like you, or whatever the case may be, good luck to you. We already knew we had an accountability problem with the RCMP in this province so what does Mike DeJong do ? He gives them more power with even less accountability. Small wonder they will not publicly release the RCMP audit.

These new laws are a smokescreen to ultimately fleece more money out of people, and to keep those same people out of the court system by design. None of us support drunk drivers but this new legislation is not the answer. It is a glorified tax grab. I will say it has had success though in keeping cases out of the courts, and also keeping people out of pubs, bars, and restaurants too. Eventually this is going to take a toll on BC Lotteries as well (that are often sold within these same establishments) maybe then the government will finally take notice. Someone should ask the BC Lottery group if sales are down much like everything else is.


If anyone is serious about becoming the next Premier they need to start by fixing this mess that Mike DeJong created.

seth said...

Ya know we should have private detectives follow hypocrites like Graham here around. If they are ever ever caught driving a car with a cold, after a fight with the wife or boss, seen talking to a front seat passenger, or driving and adjusting his radio, he should be arrested for impaired driving and given a mandatory 1 year jail sentence.

It is no wonder our politicians are all half wits with voters like Graham.

Anonymous said...

Seth, a Hypocrite is one who "professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold in order to conceal his or her real feelings or motives". In fact, come to think about it, it's not likely that very many of us could plead entirely innocent to the charge. But still, while not denying that I am one, I don't see how you concluded that from my comments above. Is it my characterization of alcohol as a drug and my use of charged language such as "peddling" to characterize its sale? In my opinion there is a huge disconnect for most people when it comes to the entire "gestalt" of alcohol versus all of the "illegal" mood and perception altering drugs, but I would say that those who argue for the toleration of drinking drivers "because, yeh but, it's legal" are possibly even more hypocritical than I (I mean about this one subject - I might be just as or even more hypocritical than most when it comes to other subjects).

seth said...

Well Graham it appears you really want to punish others who perhaps drive less safely than possible because they had a pint or too, while excusing completely folks like yourself that are at times many times more impaired because of distraction, health and emotional issues.

That is hypocracy sir.

We could almost eliminate traffic fatalities if all occupants of a vehicle wore NASCAR approved clothing and helmets as well. Where does it all end.

Do we bankrupt the nation to save one life!!!!

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