Police officers who lawfully pull over a driver no longer need reasonable grounds to demand a sample of their breath.
New, stricter legislation enacted Tuesday gives officers more authority when screening drivers for alcohol in hopes of reducing impaired driving and the number of deadly collisions on Canada’s roads.
Suspicion could arise from the smell of alcohol on their breath, slurred speech, or strange behaviour from the driver.
“Officers will no longer have to articulate that suspicion,” said Const. Chad Morrison of the Nova Scotia RCMP.
“If an officer is roadside with a vehicle, they will automatically have the authority to make a demand to any driver to provide a sample of their breath.”
MADD Canada has been working to get a mandatory alcohol screening law into effect for the past 20 years, said Anissa Aldridge, the organization’s Atlantic director.
Countries including New Zealand and Australia have similar legislation in place to help discourage impaired driving.
“We are really excited and thankful that this is coming into effect,” said Aldridge.
“We know from examining other countries where they use mandatory alcohol screening, that it’s had a huge effect on deterring individuals from driving while impaired, and it has reduced impaired driving considerably.”
Aldridge said MADD suspects the new legislation will decrease impaired driving by as much as 20 per cent — or about 200 lives every year.
It’s not entirely clear how or when officers will use the new law, but Morrison said he believes “most drivers who come into contact with police will be screened.”
An exception to that could be a busy checkpoint where obtaining a breath sample from every driver would be time-consuming and create long delays.
Officers doing checkpoints and other traffic initiatives will be expected to establish criteria for using their new authority ahead of time, said Morrison.
“Whether they are going to check every single vehicle, every second or third. And being able to document that and articulate so there’s no accusations that they are targeting any specific person or type of group of people.”
Morrison said officers will also undergo updated ethics and fairness training.
“Our training and policies are hoping to address the concern that [mandatory alcohol screening] could be used as a means of police targeting certain marginalized groups,” he said.
“We are just making sure that officers are using it in a fair ethical way.”