(One of a series of stories on prohibited driving.)
Drivers who have lost their licences are not supposed to get behind the wheel at all until their time has been served. Period.
Yet some do.
Regardless of the penalties and the fact they're breaking the law, some people are just determined to drive.
Some are alcoholics or have other addictions. Some live where there's no other easy way to get around, transit schedules don't work for them or they can't afford to take a cab. And some seem to feel they have a compelling enough reason to excuse their decision to drive while banned.
Neil MacKenzie, communications counsel with the Criminal Justice branch, said if someone is determined to be driving while prohibited, the courts will look differently at that case than if the circumstances were considered a possible emergency.
But the judge wasn't swayed for Wayne King, the Kamloops man whose licence was already suspended last September when he drove his pregnant fiancÉe to the hospital because she was having labour contractions. He pleaded guilty to a lesser infraction of driving without a licence after initially being charged while driving with a suspended licence.
Provincial court Judge Stephen Harrison ruled King could have called an ambulance or found another way to get his fiancÉe to the hospital. She had a miscarriage. King, who had lost his licence the first time around for driving while impaired, told the court he didn't have a phone to call for help.
The excuses weren't good enough in his case, nor did they work for Jason Godard. He pleaded guilty for driving while disqualified but argued he was rushing a sick child to the hospital. He was fined as well as given another driving prohibition for one year.
Provincial court Judge Chris Cleaveley told him he was on the edge of being sent to jail and he noted Godard has a criminal record as well as driving infractions.
MacKenzie said the most significant factors judges weigh when dealing with prohibited driving cases are drinking-driving prohibitions, immediate roadside suspensions or impaired convictions, and other infractions such as several speeding tickets or other unsafe driving issues.
If a driver is prohibited and still drives, then causes an accident and injures someone, there could be some severe consequences due to a lack of proper insurance.
Defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen said losing a licence in a sprawling community like Kamloops can affect whether people can get to work and keep their jobs. Cabs are few and expensive, and buses don't reach every corner of town.
Jensen said the need to get to work explains why some people take the chance and drive even if they're prohibited.
"Why do people do it (drive while banned)? Because losing a licence outside a major (population) centre is very, very difficult."
Jensen has sent clients to talk with counsellors or to take Responsible Driver programs because those efforts can't hurt and might mitigate their actions in the eyes of the court.
Some people who have been nailed for drinking and driving are required to install interlock devices in their vehicle or vehicles for a specified time.
Jensen said interlock hasn't been adopted on a big scale in B.C., but it provides a safeguard while still allowing someone to get behind the wheel if he or she is sober.
"Everybody would rather do that than be prohibited," he said.
One of his clients was a self-employed truck driver. He was picked up for driving while impaired but not while he was working and his licence was taken away. He sold his wheels and found another way to earn a living.
With tougher penalties for repeat offender drivers and increasing enforcement efforts, such as automated licence plate readers, the odds of driving while prohibited and getting away with it are shrinking, Jensen said.
"Driving's not a right, it's a privilege. It feels like a right because mobility is a right," he said.
"It's not a right. But it sure feels like one."
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The Motor Vehicle Act and the Criminal Code have various sections dealing with driving infractions, depending on the situation.
But there are some basics that cover common cases:
* Driving without a licence and getting caught the first time carries a fine of $500 to $2,000, with a possibility of prison to a maximum of six months. Second time, there's a mandatory jail term of 14 days to one year, plus the same range of fines, and a seven-day vehicle impoundment, regardless of who owns it.
* Driving while prohibited (after being caught a second time) will involve an automatic one-year prohibition.
* The B.C. Superintendent of Motor Vehicles can order a separate driving ban if, for example, someone has a particularly bad record or is considered a threat to the public by being on the road.
* B.C.'s drinking and driving laws call for three-, seven- and 30-day suspensions and vehicle impoundments for first, second and third warnings if blood alcohol levels are 0.05 to 0.08, plus fines.
* Blow over 0.08 or refuse to give a breath sample and there's a 90-day driving prohibition, a 30-day vehicle impoundment as well as fines and charges. Impaired drivers are also be required to take a responsible Drivers Program (at a cost of $985.60 with tax) and might have to install an interlock device on any vehicles they might drive when they do get their licence back ($157.50 for the program, $150 for installation, $105 a month monitoring and $50 to remove the device at the end of term).
For more detailed information, go to http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/osmv/
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