MONTREAL (AP) – The province once known for permissiveness on various vices is planning its latest crackdown on Quebecers who have a few drinks and then hit the road.
Lagging 10 to 30 years behind every other province, Quebec plans to lower the allowed blood-alcohol limit for drivers this fall, allowing police to temporarily pull licences at 0.05 blood-alcohol content.
The plan has already raised alarm among Quebec restaurant owners who fear the measure might be the coup de grace for a wine-sipping culture already irrevocably altered by a smoking ban.
Some owners say the traditions of the “cinq-a-sept” – after-work gatherings over a glass or two of beer and wine – or sharing a bottle of wine over dinner could become taboo if drivers fear police sanctions after a couple drinks.
“It’s not just about business, but also our culture,” said Dominique Tremblay of Quebec’s restaurant association.
“At a certain point, people will stop leaving their houses. If they can’t drink, or practically can’t, we are worried that in the long term people will stay home. They will buy a bottle of wine and stay home.”
The proposal by Jean Charest’s government comes just as new evidence suggests that the measure has little effect on the number of road deaths or injuries.
While the limit of .08 remains the threshold for criminal charges across Canada, all provinces except Quebec have already adopted rules to allow police to temporarily withdraw licences for lower levels of impairment.
The first extensive Canadian study of the measure was conducted by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation using detailed records in Saskatchewan.
Results published this spring found the temporary suspensions had little discernible effect on death or injury rates and did little to dissuade the general public from drinking and driving.
Study author Deanna Singhal says most accidents are caused by heavily impaired people with blood-alcohol levels above .12. The study showed habitual drunk drivers aren’t deterred by the threat of a 24-hour suspension.
But Singhal said the measure does give an important lesson to people who aren’t habitual drunk drivers but who may have just had one or two too many.
“There are probably pros and cons to implementing a short-term suspension,” Singhal said in an interview from her Edmonton home. “I’m of the view there are more pros than cons.
“For people who have a clean record, short-term suspensions can be an effective tool. But a big pro is simply allowing the police to get these people off the road for that particular day.”
Singhal also said the quick measure allowed Saskatchewan police to nearly double the number of drinking drivers they pulled off the road.
Officers used discretion with borderline cases and quickly yanked licences for 24 hours instead of relying only on the Criminal Code charge of impaired driving with its cumbersome process and heavy consequences for offenders.
A .04 limit triggering temporary suspensions came into effect in Saskatchewan in 1996 but other provinces like British Columbia and Ontario have had similar measures since the 1970s and early 1980s.