Assessment of the Initial Impact of Mandatory Alcohol Screening on Alcohol-involved Driver Fatalities in Canada – Final Report

Assessment of the Initial Impact of Mandatory Alcohol Screening on Alcohol-involved Driver Fatalities in Canada – Final Report Mandatory Alcohol Screening (MAS) became law in Canada on December 18, 2018. This amendment to the Criminal Code allowed police to demand a breath test of any driver even in the absence of suspicion or cause. MAS introduced a fundamental change in the approach used by police officers to enforce alcohol-impaired driving laws in Canada. Prior to the introduction of MAS, a police officer could demand that a driver provide a breath sample only if they had reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver had alcohol in their body. Although the threshold for suspicion is not high (the odour of alcohol on a driver’s breath or an admission of drinking is usually sufficient), these are not necessarily the most reliable clues. Police officers vary considerably in their ability to detect the signs and symptoms of alcohol use. Several studies have demonstrated that using typical clues to identify potential drinking drivers (such as the odour of alcohol, bloodshot and/or glassy eyes) can be challenging and can result in many drinking drivers going undetected (Compton, 1985; Wells et al., 1995). The switch from the use of sensory and observational techniques to detect the use of alcohol to a technological approach (i.e., the use of an Approved Screening Device or ASD) to screen drivers for the presence of alcohol was intended to enhance the probability that drinking drivers would be detected and serve to reduce alcohol-related crashes. Research in other countries has demonstrated that when used as part of a comprehensive program that includes intensive and highly visible alcohol checkpoints along with public awareness, MAS serves to enhance general deterrence. It does so by increasing both the perceived and actual probability that drinking drivers will be detected, and by reducing alcohol-involved road crashes (Henstridge et al., 1997; Homel et al., 1995; Ross, 1984). The objective of this project was to provide an indication of the initial impact of MAS by examining data on alcohol-involved driver fatalities, along with other key indicators of impaired driving before and after the introduction of MAS in Canada. It is expected that a reduction in the indicators of impaired driving would be consistent with a general deterrent impact of MAS. 2022-03-04 Department of Justice Canada open_Government@justice.gc.ca Government and PoliticsHealth and SafetyLawMandatory Alcohol ScreeningDriver FatalitiesReportAssessmentCriminal code Assessment of the Initial Impact of Mandatory Alcohol Screening on Alcohol-involved Driver Fatalities in Canada – Final ReportHTML https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/alcohol-alcool/index.html Assessment of the Initial Impact of Mandatory Alcohol Screening on Alcohol-involved Driver Fatalities in Canada – Final ReportHTML https://www.justice.gc.ca/fra/pr-rp/jr/alcool-alcohol/index.html Assessment of the Initial Impact of Mandatory Alcohol Screening on Alcohol-involved Driver Fatalities in Canada – Final ReportPDF https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/alcohol-alcool/docs/rsd_rr2021_beirness_impact-of-mas-en.pdf Assessment of the Initial Impact of Mandatory Alcohol Screening on Alcohol-involved Driver Fatalities in Canada – Final ReportPDF https://www.justice.gc.ca/fra/pr-rp/jr/alcool-alcohol/docs/rsd_rr2021_beirness_impact-of-mas-fr.pdf

Mandatory Alcohol Screening (MAS) became law in Canada on December 18, 2018. This amendment to the Criminal Code allowed police to demand a breath test of any driver even in the absence of suspicion or cause.

MAS introduced a fundamental change in the approach used by police officers to enforce alcohol-impaired driving laws in Canada. Prior to the introduction of MAS, a police officer could demand that a driver provide a breath sample only if they had reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver had alcohol in their body. Although the threshold for suspicion is not high (the odour of alcohol on a driver’s breath or an admission of drinking is usually sufficient), these are not necessarily the most reliable clues. Police officers vary considerably in their ability to detect the signs and symptoms of alcohol use. Several studies have demonstrated that using typical clues to identify potential drinking drivers (such as the odour of alcohol, bloodshot and/or glassy eyes) can be challenging and can result in many drinking drivers going undetected (Compton, 1985; Wells et al., 1995).

The switch from the use of sensory and observational techniques to detect the use of alcohol to a technological approach (i.e., the use of an Approved Screening Device or ASD) to screen drivers for the presence of alcohol was intended to enhance the probability that drinking drivers would be detected and serve to reduce alcohol-related crashes. Research in other countries has demonstrated that when used as part of a comprehensive program that includes intensive and highly visible alcohol checkpoints along with public awareness, MAS serves to enhance general deterrence. It does so by increasing both the perceived and actual probability that drinking drivers will be detected, and by reducing alcohol-involved road crashes (Henstridge et al., 1997; Homel et al., 1995; Ross, 1984).

The objective of this project was to provide an indication of the initial impact of MAS by examining data on alcohol-involved driver fatalities, along with other key indicators of impaired driving before and after the introduction of MAS in Canada. It is expected that a reduction in the indicators of impaired driving would be consistent with a general deterrent impact of MAS.

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