By Jordan W. Charness

My 21 year-old son got a letter from the government last week. So did many of his friends, and so did thousands of young drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 right across the province. They each got an individual, personalized letter direct from the Québec automobile insurance board (SAAQ) to advise them that important changes to their driving privileges will go into effect this week.

The government has now instituted a new policy of zero tolerance for any type of alcohol being consumed by a young driver. As of this week any driver up to the age of 21 who is caught with even the slightest, teeny tiniest bit of alcohol in their system will be immediately subject to a three-month loss of driving privileges plus 4 demerit points plus a fine ranging from $300 to $600.

This comes hard on the heels of the recent changes lowering the number of demerit points available to young drivers before they lose their driving privileges. The interesting thing about all these changes is not so much the fact that the government is tightening up on your good drivers but rather the fact that current young drivers are not grandfathered into the new laws.

It’s a documented fact that young drivers, particularly in the 20 to 21 year-old age range, have a disproportionate number of accidents and an even more disproportionate number of accidents related to alcohol. Over the past several years there’s been a push to restrict alcohol consumption by young drivers right across the country. Each province does it slightly differently, but in the end there is still increased scrutiny and restrictions for young drivers both male and female.

However, it most cases when a new law comes into effect it does not retroactively affect people who already have laws governing them. Ordinarily with a law of this type the government would phase it in starting with new drivers while allowing previous drivers to continue under the old system.

Not so in this case. That’s why my son and his friends got the letter: it was to remind them that even though last week young men and women of his age could have one drink and drive, as of this week that number of drinks has dropped to zero.

There was talk at the same time of changing the law in Québec to reduce the amount of allowable alcohol in a driver over the age of 21 bloodstream to .05 just like it is to the other nine provinces across Canada. At the last minute, however, this change was not made to the law.

The whole drinking and driving law business is interesting from a constitutional point of view. According to the Constitution, criminal law is strictly a federal matter. The criminal code still makes it a criminal offense to drive with more than a .08 blood alcohol concentration. At this number or higher you will be convicted of a criminal offense.

The provinces, at least most of them excluding Québec, decided that this amount was too high and made it a statutory offense to drive with more than .05 blood-alcohol concentration. While you will not get a criminal record if you drive with a blood-alcohol level between .05 and .08, you will lose your driving privileges since these are regulated by the provinces and not by the federal government.

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