Efforts to address impaired driving among youth over the past two decades have focused largely on the development of prevention, education, enforcement, and community-based intervention strategies aimed at reducing the risks associated with alcohol and driving while also seeking to reduce the number of impaired driving offences within this age group. However, less attention has been directed towards the nature of penalties that are applied to these offenders once they have been arrested and convicted, and the extent to which they are effective with this population.
Today, in many jurisdictions across Canada, young impaired drivers are frequently subject to the same traditional penalties that are applied to adult offenders (e.g., fines, probation, community service, treatment, and incarceration) despite limited evidence of the effectiveness of some of these strategies, even with adults (Dauvergne 2013).
- Licence suspensions. Youth that are convicted of impaired driving are subject to some period of licence suspension and any related remedial programming. For example, youth convicted of impaired driving in Ontario are required to successfully complete the Back on Track program as a condition of licence reinstatement.
- Fines. In Canada, when a youth is sentenced to pay a fine, they are required to pay a specific amount to the court that does not exceed $1,000. In general, fines for traffic offences among youth are typically $500.00. These fines do not include other costs associated with being charged, such as a licence reinstatement fee which can cost upwards of $200.00 depending upon jurisdiction.
- Probation. Compulsory conditions of probation include keeping the peace and appearing in court when required to do so. A judge may impose additional conditions such as a curfew, requiring a youth to report to a probation officer, enforcing abstinence, etc. The average length of probation for these probation orders is ten to 12 months.
- Community service. A judge has the discretion to impose a community service order of up to 240 hours with a maximum completion term of 12 months. These orders are often overseen by community organizations, such as the John Howard Society, that have youth attendance/ intervention centres which provide structured and supervised programming.
- Treatment. If a youth offender is found to have alcohol/drug dependency issues, the court may order treatment as a condition of probation and this can be combined with non-residential, open-custody and closed-custody arrangements. Treatment may be a viable alternative to incarceration as it is more likely to address the root cause of the problem behaviour.
- Incarceration. Incarceration is the most punitive sentence that can be given in an impaired driving case and it is an option that is not commonly used. Presumably, these cases were of such a severe nature that no alternative sanction was viewed as appropriate (e.g., impaired driving causing bodily harm or death).
- Other dispositions. Other dispositions which involve a range of activities such as reprimands, conditional or absolute discharges, restitution, prohibition orders, seizure/forfeiture, essays, apologies, and counselling can be ordered by a judge as a form of sentence. However, recent laws in jurisdictions such as Ontario do have some mandatory minimum sanctions imposed as a punishment even for youth offences. In such cases, these disposition sanctions may be imposed in addition to the mandatory sanction.
Aside from the traditional dispositions that are commonly imposed, courts may also utilize some non-traditional dispositions such as restorative justice initiatives. In recent years there has been a trend towards restorative measures to address youth crime. Restorative justice has many benefits as it seeks to give all parties involved a voice, assists in the healing process, and allows for the reduction of system costs. Some restorative justice measures include:
- Family group conferencing;
- Victim-offender mediation;
- Victim-offender reconciliation; and,
- Victim impact panels and emergency room visitation.