What are we doing wrong? In spite of extensive public education campaigns, in spite of extraordinary efforts by police and anti-drunk driving advocates, in spite of a raft of provincially-mandated penalties over and above the Criminal Code of Canada, Canada is not doing well on reducing alcohol-related driving deaths.

A recent study from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control reports that our country ranks No. 1 among 19 relatively wealthy countries.

The CDC study, recognized as among the most reliable of its kind, found that while fewer people are dying from motor vehicle crashes, the percentage of road deaths linked to alcohol impairment was 34 per cent higher than any other surveyed nation.

Dubious second place honours went to the United States at 31 per cent, with Australia ranking third at 30 per cent and France ranking fourth at 29 per cent.

The study has experts warning that Canada needs new strategies and laws to move the needle to become competitive with wealthy countries that do much better, such as Israel at 3.2 per cent, Japan at 6.2 per cent and Austria at 6.6 per cent.

But what new strategies and measures are appropriate? Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada (MADD) argues, as it has for some time now, that part of the answer is random roadside breath tests. That measure is already in place in several European countries as well as in Australia.

The problem with that, and the reason the federal government doesn't support that specific measure, is that it butts up against our Constitutional right of protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

Legal experts argue that extreme measure would not survive a constitutional challenge, and that's a convincing argument for why it's one step too far. It's also worth nothing that while Australia already has random breath testing, it ranks third in alcohol related deaths, suggesting the policy isn't having a significant deterrent effect in that country.

What measures might work? A private member's bill from Conservative MP Steven Blaney calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for impaired driving causing death. So far the Trudeau government has said it is not interested in mandatory minimums, but unless it has clearly better ideas it ought to be open in this case. MADD and others also advocate stronger administrative penalties. These could include measures like vehicle impoundment and license suspension for drivers who are caught with blood alcohol levels below the criminal threshold of 0.08 but in the warning range of 0.05 to 0.08.

Sounds draconian? Maybe. And certainly random roadside checks are. But something needs to change because it is clear the current regime, while well-intentioned and executed, isn't working by itself. Sooner or later draconian measures may be the only option.

Source: The Hamilton Spectator


Last updated on: 2016-08-06 | Link to this post