Back in August 2010, Ontario joined the ranks of Provinces who took advantage of amendments to the Criminal Code permitting the creation of reduced suspension terms with ignition of Interlock programs for impaired drivers. When I last wrote about this topic many of the day-to-day details of the program were unclear. With the program having just celebrated its first anniversary, the time is ripe for a short retrospective on how far we’ve come.
First, the basics. The Criminal Code sets out a mandatory twelve month licence suspension for anyone convicted of impaired driving offences. Prior to the enactment of the reduced suspension provisions, installation of an ignition interlock device (essentially a mini breathalyser test hard-wired to an offender’s vehicle which tests sobriety) could only commence after completion of the full twelve month suspension term. Now, first offenders convicted of impaired driving, fail / refuse to provide sample, or “over 80” are slotted into two “streams” allowing for substantial reductions in the length of their suspensions. These provisions apply only to alcohol-related impaired charges (where impairment was a function of drug or a combination of drug and alcohol, there is no reduced suspension available).
It is fairly broadly understood that only those who enter a guilty plea within 90 days of their offence date are eligible for Stream A in which the absolute suspension period is reduced from twelve to three months. Anyone else who qualifies for a reduced suspension but does not plead guilty within that short timeframe falls into Stream B which mandates a minimum six month absolute suspension period followed by a twelve month ignition interlock period. Other more esoteric requirements of the provisions are not nearly as well understood and have the potential to create significant barriers to clients who are not well advised on the administrative functionality of the program:
- The plea, conviction and sentencing must all take place within 90 days of the offence. Although there is rarely good reason to do so, counsel should be careful not to simply enter a plea and then adjourn sentencing beyond the 90 day period or the client will have lost the benefit of Stream A.
- Assessment for the Remedial Measures Program (RMP) and proof of a lease agreement for the ignition interlock device must be provided before the expiry of the three month absolute prohibition period. The ignition interlock device must be installed within 30 days of licence reinstatement and the device must remain installed until the RMP is entirely completed. The RMP, better known as “Back on Track”, and ignition interlock lease arrangements / installation take time and can be subject to growing wait lists as the popularity of the program increases. RMP completion can take as much as 11 months meaning a client who does not enrol in the program almost immediately following his conviction will find himself serving extra time with an ignition interlock device in his car over and above the minimum requirements. Counsel are well advised to urge their clients to begin the process ASAP upon conviction to ensure that they meet all the relevant deadlines to gain full access to Stream A’s benefits.
Not surprisingly, the substantial benefit of a shortened three month suspension period followed by a nine month ignition interlock requirement has persuaded many offenders to make their peace with Her Majesty in an expedited fashion. Statistics released by the Ministry reveal that ignition interlock rates for first-time offenders in the first half of 2011 are up approximately 67% over the 2010 installation rate. Of the 15,250 drivers eligible for both Streams since Aug. 2010, 4976 are either actively in the program or awaiting entry. My anecdotal prediction is that these rates will rise steadily as the program gains further traction in its second full year of operation.
The cost of the program remains a considerable barrier and the offender bears the full cost every step of the way. Installation of the device runs $169.50 plus $118.65 per month for monitoring, and a $56.50 removal fee at the conclusion of the program (all charges are inclusive of 13% HST). On top of that, the offender must insure the device at his own expense choosing between a $10/mth non-refundable fee OR a $250 up front security deposit which is refunded upon removal provided the device is returned in a defect-free condition. Add that all up and you’re looking at $1300 in interlock fees without accounting for the security deposit and the massive increase in your insurance premiums. Despite these high costs, the numbers show that there is a strong appetite for anything that can get an offender back behind the wheel as soon as possible.
The real question – and the one for which I have yet to see any statistics – is what are the violation / recidivism rates for persons accepted into the program. If ignition interlock is succeeding in tempting offenders into early guilty pleas and keeping Ontario’s roads safe, my much critiqued proposal to substitute the criminalization of impaired driving with a more robust ignition interlock Highway Traffic Act program would only serve to multiply the cost-saving benefits of the Criminal Code provisions while endangering no one. Food for thought.