New penalty forces impaired drivers in Manitoba to pay MPI for collision damages

Impaired Manitoba drivers involved in collisions will soon foot the bill for damages caused to other vehicles and property, the province announced at a Tuesday press conference.

Starting in August, drivers who get into an accident while under the influence will be unable to receive third-party liability coverage from Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI).

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the majority of Manitoba drivers who follow the law “should not be financially responsible for the consequences of those who don’t.” 

The new rules will affect impaired drivers of all motor vehicles, including off-road vehicles.

Between 2016 and 2022, MPI data shows a quarter of fatal collisions in Manitoba involved an impaired driver, causing an average of 26 deaths per year and seven so far in 2023.

“These numbers are not just statistics. They represent families torn apart, dreams shattered and futures forever changed,” Trevor Ens, president of MADD Canada’s Winnipeg chapter, said Tuesday.

“It is essential to remember that behind these changes are real people.”

Impaired driving persists in Manitoba: MPI

MPI will continue to pay repair costs incurred by impaired drivers but will seek reimbursement from them, board chairman Ward Keith said. Impaired drivers involved in collisions are already denied MPI coverage for damages to their own vehicles.

A criminal conviction or roadside prohibition is needed to enact the new penalty against impaired Manitoba drivers, he said. Those involved in a collision across Canada and the U.S. are still under the province’s jurisdiction and liable for all damage costs, including bodily injuries.

“Simply put, there is no valid reason for any Manitoban to drive while impaired,” Keith said Tuesday, adding that impaired driving has declined in Manitoba in recent years but still exists.

The regulation change will not affect access to personal injury benefits for Manitoba drivers, but those found under the influence at the time of an accident will continue to receive reduced benefits, he said.

MPI can refuse to renew drivers licenses as well as vehicle insurance and registration until impaired drivers pay back damages. Those who cannot pay all at once can also arrange to do so over a longer period, according to Keith.

“The nice thing about having a public insurance model in Manitoba is our debtors never go very far.”

Public insurers in Saskatchewan and British Columbia currently use the same penalty, and Manitoba is “now in line with other public insurance environments in Canada,” he said.

Ens said the new regulation changes are an additional deterrent to make people think twice about getting behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

“We must ensure that every person understands the potential consequences of their choices and the impact they have on others.”

Annual financial report released

MPI’s annual financial report, which was also released on Tuesday, shows the public insurer ended the last fiscal year with a $4.2 million surplus.

Keith said MPI is pleased with that outcome, as the surplus came amid a 2.1 per cent increase in the number of claims reported since the previous fiscal year and cost about $165 million more overall due to inflation and supply chain problems.