Aug 16, 2016 - D'AMATO: WE NEED NEW TOOLS TO PREVENT DRUNK DRIVING


We Canadians have a drinking problem when we're on the road.

Canada has the shameful distinction of having the highest proportion of alcohol-related road deaths of 19 wealthy countries, according to a recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One in three roadside deaths in Canada, 33.6 per cent, is linked to alcohol. That's higher than the United States and New Zealand at 31 per cent. The average among the 19 countries is around 20 per cent of road deaths being linked to alcohol, which is where countries like Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands are. The lowest rate belongs to Israel with three per cent.

"Canada has a terrible track record" on this issue, said Robert Solomon, law professor at Western University and national director of legal policy for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Canada.

Attitudes have certainly changed over the decades. When I worked for another newspaper in Ontario in the early 1980s, I was told not to write up drunk-driving convictions because they weren't important. "Everybody does it," said my editor.

Today there's a heightened understanding that drinking and driving is unacceptable. But progress has levelled off. According to Statistics Canada, in 1981, 62 per cent of drivers killed on Canadian roads had been drinking. By 1999, that figure had been sharply reduced to 33 per cent.

But since then, despite sustained enforcement by police, the percentage has risen again to between 35 and 40.

Judges give harsh sentences to people who drink and drive. Almost a year ago, Marco Muzzo drank so heavily that his blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit. He got into his SUV, sped through a stop sign and hit another vehicle, killing a grandfather and three young grandchildren at an intersection near Newmarket.

He was sent to jail for 10 years.

As appropriate as the punishment was, we can all agree that it's better to stop someone who drinks and drives before he or she kills and injures others.

For starters, how about allowing random roadside breath checks by police, and how about lowering the legal blood-alcohol level for drivers?

Long before you hit the legal limit of alcohol in your blood, you already aren't fit to drive. At 0.05 per cent alcohol in your blood (50 mg of alcohol per 100 g blood) there's already loss of focus, deteriorated judgment, lower alertness, and less ability to co-ordinate your movements or steer.

The criminal level of drunkenness while driving is 0.08 per cent. By then, you're pretty drunk. Your ability to react and concentrate are both seriously impaired. You might have short-term memory loss. Your judgment and reasoning are seriously affected and it's harder to detect danger.

Most other nations have lower blood-alcohol limits for drivers and 0.05 per cent is common in European countries. We should do the same.

The other thing we need to do is allow police to stop drivers for random breath checks.

Currently police can demand a roadside breath sample only if they have a reasonable suspicion that the driver has been drinking. That could be determined from smelling alcohol on the driver's breath, or erratic driving. But studies in the United States show police can only identify half of drunk drivers this way.

If we allowed police to stop vehicles and take breath samples randomly, it would increase the risk of being caught. Many countries, with the notable exception of the United Kingdom and United States, allow this. Canada doesn't, in part because it is seen as "unreasonable search and seizure" of the driver.

But that's not a convincing argument. Driving a car is not like walking down the street. It's a privilege, not a right. A roadside breath test now and then is not all that different from walking through a metal detector at the airport. Lots more people get killed by drunk drivers, after all, than by terrorists in airplanes.

Source: Waterloo Record


 

Last updated on: 2016-09-05 | Link to this post