Mandatory ignition interlock still months away in New Brunswick

Mandatory ignition interlock still months away in New Brunswick

It's been a year since mandatory ignition interlock devices for people convicted of impaired driving became law in New Brunswick, but it will be another few months before the program is up and running, the government says.

The devices are similar to a breathalyzer, but prevent a vehicle from being started if the breath sample indicates the driver is under the influence of alcohol.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving Atlantic has been pushing for the "life-saving measure" for years.

The New Brunswick Department of Justice and Public Safety had hoped to have the system in place by early 2017. Now, the department's goal is "by the end of the spring," spokesperson Paul Bradley told CBC News in an email.

"Planned changes are comprehensive and complex," said Bradley, citing "technological enhancements to the motor vehicle system, and systems used by law enforcement; new forms; [and] new internal procedures" as examples.

"We're taking the time to get it right with respect to implementation."

Bradley declined to discuss any specifics about the mandatory ignition interlock program, or other pending initiatives designed to strengthen the ability to identify and deter impaired driving, including roadside suspensions and vehicle impoundment.

"There are a number of details in the process of being finalized," he said.

Changes come after F+ from MADD

The necessary amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act were passed in February 2016, following MADD Canada's 2015 Provincial Impaired Driving Report, which gave New Brunswick a failing grade of 44 per cent, tying with Quebec for last place.

Susan MacAskill, the manager of MADD Atlantic, was "quite dismayed" with New Brunswick's "poor grade" but is hopeful about the impact switching from a voluntary ignition interlock program to a mandatory one will have on impaired driving-related injuries and fatalities.

MacAskill, who is based in Nova Scotia, said she was unaware of the delayed implementation but not surprised.

"When they put a timeframe on these changes and then review what is involved, it can be more extensive than what's anticipated," said MacAskill, whose father was killed by a drunk driver in 1993.

"The important thing is that they follow through."

User pay

Under the new system, anyone convicted of impaired driving will be prohibited from driving for at least one year, said MacAskill.

After three months, however, a driver who wishes to regain driving privileges will be issued a restricted driver's licence, which will allow that person to only operate a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device.

The individual must pay for the device and installation, which MacAskill said typically costs about $1,500 a year.

"It is about a drink a day … so it's a very minimal hardship to a person to be paying for this service for the privilege of operating their vehicle, and it is in the best interest of road safety," she said.

Last May, the Department of Justice and Public Safety announced a joint procurement arrangement with the other Atlantic provinces for the provision of the ignition interlock devices.

"Under the arrangement made with Alcolock Canada there is no cost associated with this program for the provincial government," said Bradley. The company will be responsible for supplying the devices and collecting the fees related to the program, he said.

"The vendor is aware that ignition interlock will become mandatory by the end of spring and is making appropriate preparations."

The devices must be installed by trained technicians at licensed mechanical outlets registered with the province, said MacAskill.

Safeguards built in

The devices, which are attached to the steering column and connected to the engine, have safeguards built in for anyone who tries to "fool" the system, she said.

For example, they require a specific blow and hum sequence, so a sober or less intoxicated passenger wouldn't be able to provide the breath sample for an intoxicated driver because they wouldn't know how to activate the device, said MacAskill.

The devices are also designed to call for random samples. So if someone starts their vehicle while sober, leaves it running while they consume alcohol, and then drives, they may be required to provide a sample, she said.

They have three minutes to pull their vehicle over and blow into the device, said MacAskill. Otherwise, the ignition starts to shut down and gives off a warning sound to other motorists, she said.

"If they're going to learn to separate the behaviour of consuming alcohol and operating a vehicle, the ignition interlock will play that part if they don't have that self-discipline."

The ignition interlock can only be removed after the motorist successfully applies to get their licence back, said MacAskill.

If the driver tries to sell the vehicle, that will be flagged, she said.

"So there's all kinds of ways that all those loopholes have been closed."

The devices may also collect data on failed attempts to start the vehicle, which could affect someone's ability to have their licence reinstated, said MacAskill. Their prohibition period could potentially be extended as a result, she said.

MADD's next comprehensive report card on the progress provinces are making with their respective impaired driving laws is expected in 2018.