Roadside penalty appeals considered

Police in B.C. have wide discretion to impose fines and impound vehicles for suspected impaired driving.

VICTORIA – The B.C. government is considering an appeal period for drivers facing steep new roadside penalties imposed by police.Legislation took effect last September giving B.C. the toughest penalties for impaired driving and excessive speeding in Canada. After hundreds of drivers were fined and had their vehicles seized, Public Safety Minister Rich Coleman announced a review of the new measures late last year.Tuesday he told Kamloops radio station CHNL that the government is considering an appeal period before fines or other penalties take effect. Coleman wasn’t available to elaborate, but his office issued a statement later in the day.”One change we are considering is implementing a process so you have a certain amount of time to appeal the offence,” the statement said. “The change would be similar to a traffic ticket, where you either accept or reject the claim, and have a certain amount of time to appeal the offence.”Such a change would have to be debated and passed in the legislature to take effect.Police in B.C. now have the option of imposing an immediate penalty on anyone who fails a roadside breath test. Instead of issuing a 24-hour suspension or a formal impaired charge, police can impose a 90-day driving ban, a $500 fine and impound the vehicle for 30 days, with the owner on the hook for the towing and storage charges.The penalties mean one failed roadside test could cost a driver $3,750 before driving again, and that is before any criminal code charges and suspensions that may also result.A blood alcohol reading in the “warn” range between 0.05 and 0.08 per cent can result in a three-day driving ban, a $200 “administrative penalty” and another $250 fee to have a driver’s licence reinstated. Drivers may also have their car impounded for three days.More than 1,400 drivers were hit with the steeper penalties in the first 20 days of the new rules. Pub and restaurant owners complained that people were afraid to have a single drink after work, and defence lawyers said the government was giving police officers too much discretion to impose penalties.

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