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Ontario Continues to get tough with DRINKING & DRIVING
 

TORONTO, Sept. 30 /CNW/ - Tough new measures aimed at first-time and repeat drinking driving offenders in Ontario go into effect today. The measures establish mandatory education and treatment programs, increase the licence suspension periods for repeat offenders and lengthen the time that a driving-related Criminal Code conviction stays on a driver's record. ``These new measures make Ontario the last place people will want to be caught drinking and driving,'' said Transportation Minister Tony Clement. ``The new measures put Ontario ahead of other provinces on the road safety front.

If drinking drivers continue to put the safety of others at risk, they're going to pay a steeper price for their actions.'' Under the new measures, convicted first-time drinking drivers must successfully complete a mandatory education program that will be managed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Repeat offenders will undergo a mandatory assessment to determine whether they would benefit from either an education or a treatment program. 

Offenders must successfully complete a remedial measures program, for which they must foot the costs, to have their driving privileges reinstated. ``We call our program Back on Track because it gives people the opportunity to change their dangerous drinking and driving behaviour and thus potentially avoid future problems,'' said Susan Harrison, a regional director for the Centre. The new measures increase licence suspensions for second-time offenders convicted of a drinking and driving-related Criminal Code offense to three years, up from two. 

Drivers convicted of a third offense will lose their licence for life. However, they can apply to have their licences reinstated if they maintain a clean record for 10 consecutive years and meet certain conditions, such as having an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle. A fourth-time offender will never get a driver's licence in Ontario again. Also effective today, drivers convicted of a drinking and driving-related Criminal Code offense since September 30, 1993, will have the offense stay on their record for a minimum of 10 years. 

In the past, all drinking and driving-related Criminal Code offense stayed on a driver's record for five years. ``Drinking and driving is a serious criminal offense and, in Ontario, more court resources are devoted to drinking and driving charges than to any other type of offense,'' Attorney General Charles Harnick said. ``As part of this initiative, the government is appointing 12 new judges, 22 assistant Crown attorneys and approximately 40 support staff to enforce these new tough new measures and get drinking drivers off the roads.''

Tough Measures Targeting Drinking Drivers

The problem

In 1996, about one-quarter of road fatalities in Ontario involved a drinking driver. In addition to loss of life, drinking drivers cost the province about $2 billion a year for hospital stays, rehabilitation and pain and suffering. While the total number of alcohol-related suspensions has decreased from about 30,000 in the late 1980s to less than 20,000 in 1996, the proportion of suspensions issued to repeat offenders has risen considerably. For example, in 1988, 53 per cent of suspensions were issued to repeat offenders. By 1996, this number had risen to about 71 per cent.
The Solution 

Effective September 30, 1998, offenders will face a mandatory remedial measures program and convictions will stay on a driver's record for 10 years up from the current five-year period. Repeat offenders will also receive increased suspension periods. These measures originated in Ontario's Road Safety Plan and received Royal Assent in July 1997 as part of Bill 138, the Comprehensive Road Safety Act, 1997. They include:

Remedial measures program - The Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Health have launched a joint program aimed at first-time and repeat offenders. First-time offenders convicted of a drinking and driving offense must successfully complete an education program at one of the centres across Ontario. The education program runs for eight hours and the treatment program covers a 16-hour period. The offender pays the $475 cost of the program, not the taxpayer.

If a service provider observes symptoms possibly related to alcohol dependency during the course of the remedial program, the provider can recommend to MTO that the offender submit a satisfactory medical report prior to licence reinstatement. Repeat offenders must undergo a mandatory assessment to determine if that person would benefit more from an education or a treatment program. Effective 
October 1, 2000, all offenders, including first-time offenders, will undergo assessment to determine whether they should be attending an education or treatment program.

Offenders must complete their program. If they don't, they won't get their licence back. The remedial measures program is a requirement under the Highway Traffic Act. It does not influence any decisions made by the Crown regarding prosecution of drinking driving charges. Ontario is the ninth province to introduce a remedial measures program. Other jurisdictions with similar programs have recorded a seven to nine per cent decrease in alcohol-related crashes and repeat offenses.

Increased suspension periods for repeat offenders - Suspension periods for second-time offenders convicted of a drinking and driving Criminal Code offense increase to three years, up from two years. Third-time offenders will lose their licence for life, instead of the three-year suspension that they used to receive.

However, they will be eligible to have their licence reinstated if they maintain a clean record for 10 consecutive years and agree to meet certain conditions, including: - successfully completing a mandatory remedial measures program; - submitting a satisfactory medical report; and - obeying the rules covering the suspension period.

In addition, these offenders must install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles as a condition of having their licence reinstated. An ignition interlock device requires drivers to self-test for the presence of alcohol (e.g., through a breathalyzer like device) before it allows the vehicle to be driven. Fourth-time offenders will never get a driver's licence in Ontario again.

While drinking and driving convictions account for 85 per cent of all driving-related Criminal Code offenses, these sanctions also apply to other non-drinking and driving Criminal Code offenses such as leaving the scene of an accident and dangerous driving.

Increasing the amount of time a drinking and driving offense stays on a driver's record Anyone convicted of a drinking and driving Criminal Code offense on or after September 30, 1993, will have that offense remain on their driver's record for a minimum of 10 years, up from five. With the offense staying on a driver's record longer, it increases the likelihood that an offender is charged as a repeat, rather than a first-time, offender.

Other Drinking and Driving Initiatives

The government has implemented other drinking driving programs, including continued funding of the RIDE program and the creation of the Administrative Driver's Licence Suspension (ADLS) program. Since ADLS was first introduced in December 1996, about 35,000 drinking drivers in Ontario have had their licence revoked for 90 days.

Enforcement of Impaired Driving Laws in Ontario Drinking and driving is a serious criminal offense and, in Ontario, more court resources are devoted to drinking driving charges than to any other type of offense. Resourcing levels - In 1997/98, spending on the Criminal Law Division reached the highest level of the last decade. For the current fiscal year, the government has committed $89.4 million, the highest level of funding ever and the number of Crown attorneys is currently 537, also the highest number ever. 

Crown policy on prosecuting drinking driving charges - The Ministry of the Attorney General aggressively prosecutes drunk driving charges. If there is evidence to support an impaired driving charge, the Crown will not substitute a lesser charge for the charge as laid. Crown attorneys are explicitly instructed not to withdraw drinking and driving charges in exchange for guilty pleas to charges such as careless driving.

Also, Crowns do not withdraw drinking and driving charges to deal with court pressures. According to a recent survey of police officers conducted for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, almost 90 per cent of persons charged with drinking and driving offenses in Ontario are convicted. 

The ministry is currently working to make the prosecution process even more efficient. As a result of the new anti-drinking and driving measures being implemented under the Comprehensive Road Safety Act, the Ministry of the Attorney General will hire 12 new judges, 22 additional assistant crown attorneys and approximately 40 other staff.

These new staff will be assigned to those court centres that have been identified as having the greatest need for additional resources. A monitoring system will be established to ensure that these resources are sufficient to provide for timely prosecutions. Crown education and training - 

The Ministry of the Attorney General is committed to providing ongoing training for Crowns in the prosecution of drinking and driving offenses. Government committed to safer communities - This tough new approach to impaired driving is part of the government's commitment to creating safer communities and improving the criminal justice system through prosecuting crime, preserving public order and safety and supporting victims of crime.

 
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