For over a hundred days now, angry Quebec students have been marching in the streets of Montreal protesting over the plan to increase tuition by $325 every year for five years. The recent passage in the National Assembly of Bill 78 has provoked even more outrage among a minority of students who fear that Quebec is trampling on our rights and freedoms, yet these claims are mostly empty and hyperbolic. If Quebec students wanted a real violation of freedoms to rally against, they would look no further than Bill 71.
Bill 71, also called An Act to amend the Highway Safety Code and other legislative provisions, is the law passed in December 2010 that barely made the news when it was implemented in April 2012. Under the new law, anyone who is 21 years old or younger is prohibited from driving a road vehicle if they have even a single drop of alcohol in their body. Similar laws have been implemented elsewhere in the country. A violation of the law will result in a loss of four demerit points, a suspended license for 90 days, and fines of between $300 and $600. The overwhelming majority of people I have heard react to this new law – including the young people affected by it – seem to support it without any need to think further. After all, we’ve been repeatedly exposed to the stark statistics: young drivers ranging from 16 to 24 years old represent only 10% of license holders but account for a quarter of fatal accidents. Young drivers are often discriminated against because of their inexperience and reckless driving. But while many do fit the stereotype, the majority are as responsible behind the wheel as everyone else.
The case against young drivers is often made based on the statistics, and yet those same statistics can show the exact opposite argument. Here’s how I see it based on the statistics provided by the Montreal Police and the Quebec government:
– 24% of fatal car crashes are caused by 20-24 year olds.
– 54% of the drivers in those crashes had blood alcohol in their blood while 47% were over the legal limit of 0.08 BAC (showing that only 7% of them were driving legally).
Therefore, only 1.68% of all fatal car accidents are caused by young people with blood-alcohol levels below the legal limit. Not as impressive anymore, is it?
In addition, 479 reportedly died on the roads in Quebec in 2011. Thus, an estimated 8 people die a year in Quebec as the result of young drivers who have alcohol in their blood but are below the legal limit. Yes, the number is still too high but to put it in perspective, there are about the same number of fatal accidents involving wildlife each year. And even at that, there is no guarantee alcohol would cause any of those accidents.
The government is punishing a whole age bracket, representing close to 800,000 people, because of the bad choices made by a few. It fails to distinguish between those who like to sit on one of Montreal’s famous terraces and enjoy a single pint of our world-class beer and those who recklessly decide to drive after a night of heavy intoxication – already a felony in and of itself.
If the government actually wanted to solve the problem of drinking and driving, it would opt for a scalpel instead of an axe. There have already been talks of lowering the drinking limit universally from 0.08 to 0.05, a change that has already taken place in British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. This less extreme approach wouldn’t single out any group of people and it would actually have the potential to save lives instead of pretending to.
Many of the problems associated with young drivers have already been addressed recently. To lessen the impact of inexperience, the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec has increased the amount of material and length of courses necessary before a student can get their license. Texting and driving has been banned, talking on the phone is prohibited, and the speeds on some streets have been reduced to ridiculously low levels. These have the potential to reduce the risk of automobile accidents. Eliminating a young adult’s freedom to have a drink responsibly like everyone else won’t reduce any risks.
Bill 71 is a violation of freedom. It punishes those who are capable of enjoying a beer – or even a liquor chocolate; as eating one before driving would cause you to be in breach of the draconian law – responsibly because of a few bad apples. Bill 71 should be receiving more attention as a blatant display of inequality and violation of freedoms, but people have already forgotten about it. To their credit, the FECQ, one of the student groups supporting the student strikes, has come out against Bill 71 and plans to take legal action against it, but now it’s on the back burner for as long as the student strike continues. Until then, the government won’t let you have your rum cake and eat it too.