Are Canada’s Drunk Driving Rules Strict Enough?

As car accident lawyers, the Will Davidson LLP legal team receives inquiries from clients who have been injured in a car accident and are seeking legal advice. Through drunk driving has declined in Canada (in the mid-1990s, well over 1,000 Canadians per year were killed in impaired driving accidents; by the mid-2010s, the number was less than 500) it remains far too common.

The dangers of drunk driving are clear: alcohol intoxication slows reaction time, reduces coordination, makes it difficult to concentrate, impairs vision, and inhibits judgement, all of which contribute to unsafe driving. For years, the federal and provincial governments, in partnership with advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada, have sought to spread this message through aggressive public education campaigns. Schoolchildren are taught that drunk driving is unacceptable from a young age; MADD commercials run regularly during high-viewership television events.

In late 2018, new federal laws came into effect with the aim of further discouraging drunk driving. Previously, first-time offenders faced a minimum fine of $1,000; second-time offenders faced a minimum penalty of 30 days in prison; and repeat offenders faced a minimum of 120 days in prison.

Under the new laws, first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of between 80 and 119 mg per mL face a minimum fine of $1,000; first-time offenders with a BAC between 120 and 159 mg face a minimum fine of $1,500; and first-time offenders with a BAC over 160 mg face a minimum fine of $2,500. First-time offenders who refuse to be tested face a minimum fine of $2,000.

The penalty for second- and third-time offenders remains a minimum of 30 and 120 days in jail, respectively. Impaired drivers who cause an accident causing no bodily harm face up to 10 years in prison. Those who cause an accident causing bodily harm face up to 14 years, and those who cause an accident resulting in death can face life in prison.

The new penalties were generally accepted by road safety advocates and car accident lawyers. However, some still question whether they are sufficient. A recent Toronto Stararticle suggests that some drunk drivers in Ontario are treated too leniently.

On June 21, 2020, 27-year-old Darya Selinevich of Richmond Hill was arrested while driving dangerously on Highway 400 south of Barrie. According to an agreed statement of facts, as reported by the Star, Selinevich was “swerving from side to side” in heavy traffic and repeatedly almost struck the median. A breathalyzer showed she had a BAC of over 160 mg. A dozen empty beer containers were reportedly found in her vehicle.

Shockingly, this was Selinevich’s third arrest for impaired driving. In 2015, she received a one-year ban for speeding with a BAC of twice the legal limit. Just a month later, she struck and killed a cyclist on Finch Ave West, fled the scene, and led police on a chase through a residential neighbourhood. She had been drinking heavily and was travelling at twice the speed limit when the collision occurred, according to the Star.

Selinevich received a seven-year sentence for her role in the death, which was reduced to 4 ½ years for time served. She was granted day parole in early 2018, and later granted full parole on the condition that she did not drink and did not drive.

Following her most recent arrest, Selinevich pleaded guilty to impaired driving and driving while suspended. The Crown is seeking a prison sentence of two years less a day; her defence is seeking a sentence of no more than 15 months. For many observers, including some car accident lawyers, both proposals are too low. Selinevich has a history of impaired driving and apparently learned nothing from her role in a man’s death. Previous jail time and existing driving bans did nothing to discourage her from getting back behind the wheel while intoxicated.

As MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie told the Star: “Families who have been impacted by impaired driving will think this is outrageous.”

As car accident lawyers, the team at Will Davidson LLP can help victims of drunk driving find closure where the criminal justice system cannot. Our team has helped numerous accident victims access compensation to mitigate the costs of recovery.

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a car accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer. Although our team has experience with claims involving impaired driving, we also provide representation in accident benefits claims, insurance disputes, and more.

Reach out today to learn more about our services and experience. Will Davidson LLP offers representation on a contingency basis, meaning you won’t be charge up-front or hourly legal fees. Instead, our team will accept a pre-arranged percentage of the final legal settlement as payment. This approach is used by most personal injury law firms in Ontario to ensure access to justice for all Ontarians.

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Safety advocates call for harsher dangerous driving penalties

In July, 21-year-old Mitchell Irwin was handed a four-year prison sentence and concurrent six-year driving ban for killing 26-year-old cyclist Adam Excell in a 2015 hit-and-run. Excell’s family believes the sentence is too lenient, and has found support among road safety advocates and car accident lawyers.

“It doesn’t seem like justice was served today,” Excell’s cousin Ashley Ferguson told the Toronto Star following the sentencing. “If you take someone’s life while driving, I don’t think you should be able to drive. You shouldn’t have that privilege.”

Irwin’s punishment, in other words, does not fit the crime he committed. However, in her decision Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestall noted that this seemingly lenient sentence would have been considered harsh in the recent past. In this case, the defence and prosecution agreed upon the four-year sentence ‘given that Irwin pleaded guilty, showed remorse and is a young man with no criminal record,’ according to The Star.

Road safety advocates and car accident lawyers are increasingly frustrated with lax sentencing for dangerous drivers. In Toronto, upwards of 10,000 pedestrians and 5,000 cyclists were killed or seriously injured by motorists between 2008 and 2012, and many hundreds more have been killed or injured since.

“Every single death on our roads is preventable,” Cycle Toronto’s Jared Kolb told The Star. “There is an immense amount of power that comes with driving a motor vehicle … (Drivers) need to slow down, need to put their phones down, need to pay attention and drive sober. It is a huge responsibility and a privilege to be driving.”

Some advocates and car accident lawyers believe the justice system’s implicit “car bias” has done as much harm to vulnerable road users as individual dangerous drivers, and are pushing for significantly harsher penalties. Today, drivers can face up to 10 years in prison for dangerous driving causing injury, but the courts rarely hand down maximum sentences. Friends and Families for Safe Streets, an organization formed by the loved ones of victims of traffic accidents, wants motorists who recklessly kill someone to face lengthy driving bans and fines of up to $50,000. The group also wants court appearances to be mandatory for dangerous drivers, in part so they are forced to listen to victim impact statements.

Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca is reportedly exploring options to improve road safety in the province, including stiffer penalties. In an email to the Star, his spokesperson Alana Kiteley wrote: “It is critical that we ensure that any changes made will have a real impact on the safety for our vulnerable road users and that any action taken, including penalties, will act as a true deterrent to dangerous driving behaviours.”

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a traffic accident, contact the car accident lawyers at Will Davidson LLP today to set up a free, no-obligation consultation and learn how we can help.

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