by Cedric Hughes, Barrister & Solicitor with regular weekly contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.B.   

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The Decline in Alcohol Related Driving Incidents

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The debate continues over how to deter drunk driving.  In Canada, although fatalities from drunk driving are down to 28% in 2013 (the year of the most current available data) from the 37% level of the mid’90s, this still represents 480 lives lost and is only “part of the picture,” injury statistics being much higher.

Another troublesome statistic comes from a more recent survey—the Traffic Injury Research Foundation’s 2016 Road Safety Monitor— of roughly 2,000 Canadians on their drinking and driving habits which “found a spike in the number of people who admitted to getting behind the wheel within two hours of consuming alcohol.”  In this annual online poll “nearly 22% reported doing so, up 5% from the previous year. About 4.6% said they believed they had driven while their blood alcohol content was over the legal limit, up modestly from the 2015 figure of 4.2%.”

Reports on this 2016 survey add qualification from the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association that online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.  And commentators on this survey point out that “driving within two hours of consuming alcohol” provides “no correlation whatsoever with driver risk.”  The 5% ‘spike’ is something however, if only indicating that even if technically legal at defined levels, people continue to mix drinking and driving.

The debate includes identifying what has worked, i.e. contributed to the declining percentage of drunk driving caused fatalities, and what has not.  In Canada (and specifically in British Columbia), the two most effective factors are generally said to have been the provincial graduated licensing programs with zero tolerance for alcohol for young drivers, and the immediate roadside suspensions and penalties imposed under provincial administrative powers.

Although all licensed drivers must know and abide by the licensing programs, publicity and educational efforts are important reinforcements.  The efforts of advocacy groups such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) are important.  The latest statement of MADD’s mission is clear and unequivocal: “to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking.”  MADD’s website is a mine of information on this topic — http://www.madd.org/drunk-driving/.

Recently, top of the list of what may not work is the trend towards stiffer sentences for those convicted of drunk driving under the Criminal Code of Canada.  In mid-January 2017, an Ontario judge cited this trend in sentencing 34-year-old Marcello Fracassi to six years for hitting two city workers from Alliston, Ontario killing one and seriously injuring the other.

MADD Canada’s Andrew Murie reacted saying impaired motorists are more likely to be deterred by the possibility of getting caught, not the potential consequences of a hypothetical tragedy.  “There’s other things that deter them, the penalties given out in court are not part of that.”  The sentencing judge had pointed out, however, that while sentencing always involves consideration of individual circumstances “long-standing public awareness of the gravity of drunk driving helps justify the trend towards tougher punishments.”  No doubt this aspect of the debate will remain highly contentious.

Cedric Hughes

huges & company law corporation vancouver


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