Saskatchewan has some of the toughest laws in the country when it comes to drinking and driving, and they're about to get tougher yet, thanks to some proposed amendments to the province's Traffic Safety Act.
Under the amendments, any driver who fails a standard field sobriety test, or SFST, due to alcohol or drug impairment will receive an immediate 24-hour licence suspension, as will drivers who refuse to take the test. Under current legislation drivers can refuse to take an SFST without consequence.
The test is administered at the roadside by police officers to help them determine whether or not a person's ability to drive is impaired. It includes the walk and turn test and the one-leg stand test. The officer also checks the person for involuntary movement of the eyes.
"The SFST is considered one of the best methods of identifying impaired drivers and it will help law enforcement to take more drinking drivers off the road," said Maynard Sonntag, minister responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, which spearheaded the amendments to the act.
Another proposed amendment would see a 15-day driver's licence suspension for drivers after a second .04 blood alcohol content violation within a five-year period.
Under current legislation, a driver receives a 24-hour licence suspension for a first .04 violation. A second violation within a five-year period nets them another 24-hour suspension and they must attend a Drive Without Impairment (DWI) course. The requirement to attend a DWI course will remain in place for a second violation under the amended act.
The proposed amendements will not have any affect on new drivers in the graduated licence program. Those drivers cannot consume any amount of alcohol before driving. A new driver found in violation will receive a 30-day licence suspension for their first violation and will be required to attend a DWI course. Any further violations within a five-year period will mean additional 30-day suspensions and a requirement that the driver complete addiction screening.
The amendments to the act have the support of the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police (SACP).
"Legislation that increases the consequences and therefore the deterrence of driving while impaired by any drug, including alcohol, is welcomed by the SACP and its member agencies," said SACP president Terry G. Coleman. "The well-researched SFST is an excellent addition to the tools we have as police officers to work in behalf of our communities to ensure we all get home safely and in good health."
The proposed amendments will come into force when the Traffic Safety Act is proclaimed in 2006.