The fatal car crash in Vaughan last year drew stark attention to the consequences of drunk driving a year ago — but are GTA’s young male drivers getting the message?


Harrison, left, Milly, centre, and Daniel Neville-Lake died after a car crash in Vaughan last September. Marco Muzzo pleaded guilty to impaired driving and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  

Last March, Jennifer Neville-Lake held up a photo album filled with photos of her three children.

The grieving mother used the book, titled “My consequences,” to illustrate her passionate plea to the public to consider the outcome of drinking and driving.

Driving while intoxicated is a problem on the rise in parts of the GTA. A data analysis shows impaired-driving charges continue to grow in some suburban areas, and rates remain stubbornly high even where charge numbers have dropped.

Neville-Lake’s album was the embodiment of any parent’s worst nightmare. Neville-Lake and her husband Edward’s three children — Daniel, 9, Harrison, 5, and Milly, 2 — as well as her father, Gary Neville, 65, were killed in a crash with an SUV driven by a drunk driver last September in Vaughan.

Marco Muzzo, whose blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, pleaded guilty to impaired driving and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“When you choose to drink and drive, you’re choosing to kill someone else’s babies, like mine were killed,” Neville-Lake said following the sentencing. “Like all of mine were killed, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon just after 4 o’clock.”

The horrific crash that happened nearly a year ago — the anniversary is Sept. 27 — was well-publicized, but police say drivers aren’t getting the message.

York Regional Police charged 16 people with offences related to impaired driving over the final weekend in August — the latest batch of arrests in what they have called the “continuation of a disturbing trend.”

“Our enforcement strategy is showing that the numbers are not going down,” said traffic bureau Insp. Randy Slade.

In 2015, York police laid 1,029 charges related to impaired driving, up from 885 the previous year and 717 in 2013. Since then, the rate of charges per 100,000 residents has spiked to 94, from about 67.

Slade said 85 per cent of offenders are male and the vast majority are between the ages of 22 and 34. Muzzo was 29 at the time of the deadly collision.

“I think the million-dollar question is: How do we (send a message to) males between 22 and 34 to get their act in order?” Slade said. “Everybody knows we’re out there, and we publish information about our long-weekend results or when we’ve had a bad week. How do you message this group to change their behaviour? Clearly the fear of being caught is not having any impact.”

Halton Region’s numbers are also rising. Last year, Halton police laid close to 450 charges, about 100 more than they did four years ago. In the past decade, the rate of charges per 100,000 residents has grown to 82, from about 62 per year.

“This really is one of the larger societal ills,” said Halton Sgt. Ryan Snow. “This is a situation where I would probably be trying to challenge the public and say: You know what? This is not an issue that any one entity, for instance government or the police, are solely responsible for preventing.”

The usual deterrents, such as licence suspensions, criminal convictions and threat of injury, simply don’t seem to be strong enough motivation to end drinking and driving, he said.

“One of the things that really has to happen is we need a wholesale change of behaviour in the motoring public,” said Snow, comparing it to what’s happened with tobacco. “There was a time that the public accepted smoking on airplanes. We’re in a situation now where smoking as a behaviour is almost socially verboten, especially in public circles.”

But in Durham and Peel regions, impairment charges have been declining for several years. Between 2010 and 2015, Durham’s total of impaired charges dropped to 764 from 870. Peel has seen a reduction to 1,428 last year, from 1,677 in 2012.

But even with the decline, these two regions still had the highest rates overall: Durham with about 116 charges per 100,000 residents, Peel with 104.

“Every area is different,” said Det. Const. Todd Gribbons, of Durham police. “You have your rural areas, and then you have your business areas, so it all depends on what’s going on in the area and the information that we receive where we can target things.”

Rates in all four suburban regions are drastically higher than in Toronto, which had about 48 charges for every 100,000 people in both 2014 and 2015.

Snow said transit, or lack thereof, could play a factor. Whereas downtown residents can rely on public transportation, people living in Halton or Durham may be more car-dependent.

That’s a problem when alcohol enters the picture, especially where there are higher speed limits.

“We see a lot more fatalities that are related to speed in areas that are generally more rural and as a result have higher speed limits,” Snow said. “In some of the more outlying areas — the north end of Peel, Durham, Halton or even up as far as York —when you talk about impaired operation, generally one of the aspects that leads to your significant and life-altering injuries and/or fatalities is going to be an element of speed.”

The lack of designated bar areas in the suburbs may also contribute to more incidents, Slade said. In most drunk-driving cases, offenders had been drinking in homes rather than bars, he said.

“If this group (males 22-34) are our biggest offenders and they’re drinking at residences before they go out to bars … you have to own what they do after they leave your house,” he said. “If you can’t stop the offender, can you stop the location? If it’s not at a bar and it’s at someone’s house, maybe the message needs to go to (householders).”

Toronto’s rate held steady from 2006 to 2012, averaging 70 to 79 arrests per 100,000 people, before dipping to about 59 in 2013.

“The drop in numbers could be due to the public taking the safety messaging from government, police and third-party agencies to heart and changing their behaviour,” Toronto police Const. Clint Stibbe in a statement. “The challenge we face is reaching zero. We have a long way to go to meet that goal. The reality is even one person driving impaired is one too many.”

But Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, sees regions with declining impairment charges differently. To him, these trends are actually cause for concern — a sign that enforcement is dipping.

Since 2008, Criminal Code charges for alcohol-impaired driving have dropped by 21 per cent in Ontario, according to a MADD Canada report to be published later this month. Licence suspensions of at least three days have declined by nearly 40 per cent since 2010.

“I’d have no problems with what Ontario is doing on criminal and licence suspensions if the death rate was falling with it. And it’s not,” Murie said. “It’s a major concern, because there’s been a dramatic decrease in Ontario’s enforcement on impaired driving without the parallel decrease in deaths.”

A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in July found that Canada led all wealthy countries in percentage of road deaths linked to alcohol impairment. Canada topped the list of 19, with 33.6 per cent of all motor vehicle fatalities involving alcohol.

Nearly a year since Neville-Lake’s father and three children were taken too soon at the hands of a drunk driver, York police say drunk driving is a problem that “shows no sign of slowing down.”

And it has police officers like Slade confounded by what to do next.

“Right now, I’m looking for the answer, and it’s not me coming up with it,” he said. “I thought we were beyond this.”

Source: The Star


Last updated on: 2016-09-12 | Link to this post