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Ontario toughens licence rules for new and young drivers

Young drivers and new motorists of all ages in Ontario will not be allowed to have any alcohol in their blood whatsoever under new rules that take effect Aug. 1.

Under legislation passed in 2009, Ontario drivers 21 and under will be required to have a zero blood alcohol count, regardless of what kind of licence they have.

"It is unfortunately young people who are often most at risk if we talk about drinking and driving," said Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne.

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"That's the stuff that keeps us up at nights, so we want to make sure we put in place rules that are going to keep our kids safe."

Novice drivers with G1 and G2 licences will also be restricted to a zero blood alcohol count, regardless of their age.

The zero tolerance for drinking and driving for people under age 22 was passed after the Liberal government backed off another initiative that would have limited teenage drivers to having only one other teen passenger in their vehicles.

A massive online protest on Facebook quickly forced Premier Dalton McGuinty to abandon the most restrictive parts of the legislation, but the government pushed ahead with the zero blood alcohol content rule for young motorists.

Drivers breaking the new zero tolerance rules for alcohol will have their licence suspended immediately for 24 hours, and face a further suspension of 30 days plus a fine of up to $500.

A second offence could bring a 90-day suspension, and young drivers could lose their licence if caught with any alcohol in their blood a third time.

Manitoba and New Brunswick have similar legislation, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving predicted the new rules in Ontario would lead to a significant drop in the fatality rate among young people.

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"It will save more lives than any other piece of legislation at a provincial level," said MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie.

"We'll see a dramatic fall - we predict somewhere between 15 and 25 per cent " in young people's deaths."

Young drivers of legal drinking age are nearly 1.5 times more likely to be involved in drinking and driving accidents that involve death or injury, said Wynne.

"This is evidence based, she said. "We know that 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds as a group are seriously at risk for being in fatal collisions because of drinking and driving, so the rules need to reflect that."

There are further sanctions dealing with novice drivers who have too many people in their vehicles or are caught for certain speeding offences.

The government is also offering people convicted of impaired driving for the first time the option of a reduced sentence if they agree to install an ignition interlock device, which stops the car from starting if the driver has any alcohol in his or her system.

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MADD said the idea of the ignition interlock is to change behaviour and prevent the first-time drunk driver from becoming a repeat offender.

"They're the highest risk group, so this technology actually teaches these people to separate their drinking from their driving," said Mr. Murie.

"It's not about punishment; it's about being smart about road safety and using the things that'll change behaviours."

In the last decade in Ontario, 235 drivers age 21 and under were killed in drinking and driving collisions.

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