Is it time to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit in Quebec?

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Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has announced she is considering lowering the legal alcohol limit for drivers, but some say it’s far from a solution to drunk driving.

Wilson-Raybould sent a letter to Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée in May in which she suggested lowering the limit to 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood from the current 80 milligrams.

The federal minister says the change would make it easier to fight drunk driving.

Not so, says Hubert Sacy, the director of Éduc’alcool.

“You don’t pull a rabbit out of a hat and just decide that this is the magic answer to everything,” Sacy tells CBC News.

“Everywhere where drunk driving has decreased it has never been the result of a legislative change only,” Sacy says. “There’s tons of measures that need to come before that.”

Sacy says much of the work needs to be done on the provincial level, including increasing the perception that drunk drivers will be caught. More road checks are needed, he says, and restaurant and bar servers should have the power to stop drunk patrons from driving.

hubert sacy educalcool

Hubert Sacy, the director of Éduc’alcool, says enforcement measures should be taken before a change in the law. (CBC)

Wilson-Raybould says the current rules were established after research indicated the risk of being involved in a car crash was twice as likely when a driver has 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

The minister writes that modern-day research suggests the earlier data underestimated that risk.

Wilson-Raybould says in her letter to Vallée that she was keen to hear her colleague’s thoughts on the proposed legislative change.

But, Sacy says, “nowhere on planet Earth, by just changing one law, have things improved.”

Change would hurt restaurateurs

The prospect of a lower limit is especially worrying to the restaurant industry, according to Martin Vézina of the Quebec Restaurant Association.

He, too, would like to see other measures put in place before reducing the limit, which he fears will discourage potential patrons from going out to restaurants and bars at all.

“It will be a change in the consumer habits,” he says. “Some citizens will say, ‘Oh I will stay at home and drink instead.'”

Vézina says it wouldn’t only affect alcohol sales, but food sales as well. It would hit the industry even harder in areas outside cities, where the only way to get to a restaurant is with a car.

He feels that instead of targeting drivers who may truly be a problem on the roads, a change in the law could “criminalize civilians who’ve had two glasses of wine with their meal.”

Bad timing, says CAA

The Canadian Automobile Association’s Quebec organization responded to the announcement by saying it’s too soon to lower the limit, with the legalization of cannabis on its way.

“If the BAC limit is reduced to 0.05 as well, we believe the governments would be biting off more than they can chew, and the pill for motorists would be too hard to swallow,” says Marco Harrison, director of CAA-Quebec, in a news release.

Instead, the association wants authorities to do more to prevent drunk driving, calling on the Quebec government to earmark funds to help police set up more road checks.

In its statement, the CAA also adds that in other provinces, when a driver’s blood-alcohol content registers between 0.05 and 0.08, a warning or a fine is given, without the driver having to face criminal charges.

“Going ahead with an immediate change to the Criminal Code, with no phase-in period, could well create a lot of confusion and discontent,” it says.

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Is it time to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit in Quebec?

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