Police have shifted impaired driving enforcement away from criminal prosecutions in favour of much greater use of tougher roadside penalties since September 2010.

Court blocks reversal of roadside drunk driving penalties

Punished drivers had hoped to win back fines, other costs.

Drivers who were hit with tough roadside impaired driving fines and other penalties before some aspects were declared invalid will not be entitled to any retroactive relief, according to a B.C. Supreme Court ruling.

Justice Jon Sigurdson rejected the claim brought by four drivers, ruling they are not entitled to be reimbursed for fines and other expenses because his original Nov. 30 decision finding the law invalid is not retroactive to its September 2010 imposition.

He also rejected arguments that the province acted in bad faith when it legislated the Administrative Roadside Prohibitions because it knew they would likely be challenged.

“Any petitioner with any outstanding fees, penalties or suspensions is still subject to paying/serving such fees, penalties, and/or suspensions,” Sigurdson ruled.

It’s bad news for the initial 15,000 motorists swept up in the net of stiffer drunk driving penalties that took effect in September 2010.

Diego Solimano, a lawyer with the Surrey-based Merchant Law Group, said an appeal is under consideration, but added the ruling is a blow to the chances of 700 other clients who had so far signed up for a proposed class action lawsuit.

“There are a lot of people who cannot afford to pay $4,000 or $5,000 to get their driver’s licence back,” he said.

Solimano said many of the affected drivers had been waiting for possible retroactive relief and still have not yet undertaken costly requirements such as attending a responsible driving program or installing an ignition interlock.

“Those penalties don’t expire with the passage of time,” he said.

Litigants in the case weren’t just demanding repayment of their fees and direct costs.

Carol Beam, whose car was impounded 34 days after a failed test in October 2010, claimed $6,869 for costs that included six days of lost income, her need to hire a driver, legal fees, the cost of an ignition interlock and taking the responsible driver program.

Jamie Chisholm claimed $19,510 – most of it for lost wages during his 84-day driving prohibition after blowing a fail.

Scott Roberts told the court he agreed to have his $5,000 vehicle destroyed because he couldn’t afford the impound fees for 30 days. He claimed nearly $28,000, including lost wages.

The province adjusted the law this spring after Sigurdson’s earlier ruling found it invalid because there wasn’t an adequate method to challenge a failed reading of over 0.08 on a roadside test.

Now police officers must tell suspected impaired drivers they are entitled to blow a second time on the screening device and that the lowest of the two readings will apply. Previously, the second reading was binding if a driver opted to blow again.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she’s pleased all the penalties will stand, adding the province remains “steadfast” in its groundbreaking approach to deterring drunk driving.

“The 44 per cent reduction in alcohol-related fatalities since our law came into force – with an estimated 71 lives saved – is unprecedented,” Bond said.

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