RCMP in Nova Scotia hope new impaired driving laws will decrease number of impaired drivers

As of Tuesday, police can demand a breath sample from any driver they pull over.

Officers will still need a legal reason to pull someone over, but once they do, they can ask for the breath sample and drivers who refuse could face charges.

“We would love to believe that this will decrease the amount of impaired drivers on the road,” said Const. Jennifer Clarke with the RCMP.

“It certainly has been the case in other jurisdictions where this has been implemented.”

The new rules only apply to alcohol impairment. To test for drug impairment, police will still need to have a reason for suspicion.

The new rules are part of Bill C-46 which received royal assent in June. At that time, new drug impairment rules outlining prohibited drug levels also took effect.

When it comes to cannabis, the prohibited level is over 2 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Officers who suspect a driver is impaired by drugs can conduct a roadside standard field sobriety test, use drug recognition experts or an oral fluid screening device. From there, they can proceed with a blood test at a station.

“We have had several investigations which have led to blood tests from oral fluid screening device exams on the side of the road,” said Clarke.

“So we’re certainly seeing more instances that could lead to charges.”

However, there are also some privacy concerns and the possibility of Charter challenges.

“Our liberty under Section 7 can only be violated if it’s reasonable to do and because this is such a broad law and they don’t have to have reasonable suspicion of drinking before they do it,” said Dalhouie University Professor Emeritus Wayne MacKay.

“My own view is that likely at the end of the day, it’s going to be upheld because it does have pretty clearly proven benefits in terms of reducing the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers and I think as a society we’re supportive of that and therefore likely to accept these kinds of limits.”

In November alone, Halifax District RCMP and Halifax Regional Police charged 56 drivers with impaired driving. Five of those charges were for drug impairment.

In December, those numbers often rise across the country with many people taking part in holiday festivities. Police in the Halifax area will be putting more of a focus on impaired driving checkpoints in the coming weeks and drivers stopped may be asked for a breath sample.

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