One of the biggest concerns that the public has when it comes to impaired driving is the problem with repeat or chronic offenders. You probably remember the story of the Victoria woman with 19 drunk driving prohibitions, who was recently found guilty of another offence related to impaired driving. The public was, rightly, outraged that this person can still drive and is still driving drunk.
The Government, for its part, has touted the success of the Immediate Roadside Prohibition legislation as the mechanism to reduce the carnage caused by impaired drivers on the road. It frequently points to the reduction in drunk driving deaths as evidence of the success of their anti-drunk driving legislation. But what they've been keeping mum about since the introduction of the scheme is whether there is any reduction in repeat offenders for impaired driving.
In short, do the swift and severe sanctions prevent people from making the same mistake twice? The answer might surprise you.
I recently made a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General for any information related to the rates of recidivism in Immediate Roadside Prohibition cases. My theory was simple: since the law was oh-so-successful, the number of IRPs issued each year should decline, and there should be a corresponding but sharp decline in criminal offences. Finally, if the immediacy and severity of the sanctions was effective, then it would not be likely to see any increase in subsequent prohibitions.
You can download a copy of all of the data they released to me here. You have to download it from me, unfortunately, because the Government refuses to publish this information on the Open Information website. Why? My assumption is because it makes them look bad.
The Government had a similar thought process and commissioned a study called Trends in IRPs and ADPs July 2012 to August 2015.
A few things about the data are noteworthy. Interestingly, Government appears to track where IRPs are issued, and by which police forces. I can't quite discern the reason for this other than, I suppose, to determine whether there are localized problems of impaired driving which might impact funding allocation decisions or issues related to sentences sought by Crown Counsel in criminal cases.
Contrary to the so-called success of the IRP scheme, it appears from the data that the number of 7-day and 30-day Immediate Roadside Prohibitions are increasing. These are prohibitions issued to drivers who blow a "Warn" reading on an approved screening device. First time, it's 3 days. Second time is 7 days. The third time is 30 days. Despite the claims that the law is successful at reducing deaths, it appears that drivers are not getting the message Government wants to hammer home. If there is an increase in prohibitions that can only be issued for second or third time offences, then that means there is an increase over time in the number of recidivists.
So much for a swift and severe deterrent.
Also interesting was the fact that Administrative Driving Prohibition numbers have remained steady throughout the time since the introduction of the IRP legislation. Historically, Administrative Driving Prohibitions (ADPs) were issued to drivers who were given a criminal charge. These are based on the results of the breathalyzer at the police station, and are somewhat different than IRPs in that they begin 21 days after the date of the incident. The Motor Vehicle Act specifically prohibits an IRP from being issued where an ADP has been issued, and vice versa.
But with IRPs supposedly taking the place of criminal charges for first time offenders, the number of ADPs should be declining. In fact, there should be a sharp decline that increases over time if the scheme is as effective as the Government claims. After all, it should only be a second-time or subsequent offender who receives an ADP.
Instead, we see the numbers of ADPs remaining steady. This can only mean that the number of repeat offenders is, at least, remaining steady over time or increasing given that an ongoing decline would be expected. Couple that with a decrease in the overall numbers of IRPs issued and it is evident that people are not really all that deterred by a 90-day Immediate Roadside Prohibition.
I've always thought there was good public value in a stern lecture from a knowledgeable judge, and that there is a significant promotion of responsibility that comes from having to face the Court and acknowledge what you did, either by sitting through a trial or by obtaining a plea deal resolution. Even trials that result in acquittals promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, in my experience. This simply doesn't happen in a 30-minute hearing over the phone where you never have to face anyone and you cannot be questioned about what you did or did not do.
This data is, unfortunately, vague. But the vagueness belies the reality that the Government doesn't want to face: recidivism is on the rise with the Immediate Roadside Prohibition scheme. The big question is how long before the Government acknowledges this and creates a scheme that is both fair and effective?
I don't think it will be anytime soon.
Vancouver Criminal Lawyer with a focus on impaired driving, cannabis legalization and related issues, and immediate roadside prohibition defence.