The zero-tolerance provision of Bill 71, which prohibits for drivers under age 22 from getting behind the wheel with any alcohol whatsoever in their system, has come into force on April 15th — just in time for graduation parties.

The measure, adopted unanimously by Québec’s National Assembly, is backed up by both statistical data and scientific evidence.

Statistics: The numbers are unequivocal: young people under age 22 are grossly overrepresented in road accident figures. And it’s not just a matter of inexperience: behaviour plays a role as well.

Science: The latest discoveries in neuroscience clearly show that the third phase of brain development, occurring between ages 15 and 24, proceeds from back to front, or from the occipital to the frontal lobe. This means that the rear (occipital) portion, where risk-taking, strong emotions, pain and pleasure are felt, develops long before the frontal lobe responsible for making predictions, anticipating consequences, and exercising judgment.

Young people thus experience heightened strong sensations combined with underdeveloped judgment — the perfect “cocktail” of risk factors.

Some student associations chose to contest the law on the grounds that it discriminates against young people. They feel that driving experience, not age, should be the determining factor when setting restrictions. This view seems to hold water at first, but only if you choose to ignore the wealth of research that contradicts it. Data shows that being young is, in and of itself, a risk factor. It’s an irrefutable fact.

This is not to say that all young people, or only young people, are irresponsible drivers—far from it. And it’s important not to ostracize them. But the fact remains that we must make decisions based on scientific research and hard evidence. And we should bear in mind that we already don’t all enjoy the same rights and privileges. After all, you can’t drive until you turn 16, and you can’t buy alcohol or vote until you turn 18.

There is another aspect we can’t stress enough: for a law to be effective it must be enforced.

Unfortunately, in Québec, there is a widely held perception that you can break the law with impunity. This perception is exactly what stands in the way of behavioural change. Until Quebecers believe they will be arrested if they drive while impaired, all the laws and regulations in the world won’t stand a chance.

That’s why we need to step up the police presence on the roads and substantially boost the number of roadside alcohol tests. It’s the only way to make a real difference when it comes to improving road safety.

Hubert Sacy
Director General