A rash of high-profile fatal crashes in the past few weeks is an anomaly in a city and province where drunk driving is on the decline.

A senior Calgary traffic officer says overall statistics are encouraging, despite the recent tragedies that killed two teenagers in less than a week.

“These ones really stand out because they’re in such short order. Even with the numbers going down, when you have one, two or three, it’s devastating to the families and community,” said Staff Sgt. Paul Stacey of the Calgary Police Service’s traffic section.

“Our members who see the carnage despair, because it’s so preventable.”

There have been eight fatal crashes so far in 2016 in which alcohol was deemed a factor. There were seven in 2015 and seven in 2014 — a marked drop from 2013 when police recorded 18 fatalities linked to impaired driving. There has also been a huge decline in impaired driving arrests this year, according to Stacey. Last year, 2,080 charges were laid, while so far this year, there have been 1,359. 

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“When I started on this job 25 years ago, it was nothing for each member to get a couple of impaired each night. And the readings then were much higher.

“I think it’s a generational thing and society is maybe starting to get it.”

Staff Sgt. Paul Stacey of the Calgary Police Service Traffic Section.

Police statistics are down for all impaired-related categories: arrests, collisions and fatalities. Stacey can’t pinpoint one cause, believing it’s a combination of factors, including more public awareness, increased checkstops and the 2012 change in legislation to include offences between .05 and .08 blood-alcohol readings. 

“The change in legislation had a significant impact because it bumped awareness up that much more. And people started losing their cars, and people do not like it when we take their cars away.

“I’m truly hoping the decline will continue. I’m not happy we’re already seeing one more (fatality) than last year and we have a few months to go.”

That downward trend is being seen across Alberta. Stacey met last week with his provincial counterparts and they all reported similar findings. Criminal code convictions are down dramatically from 6,984 in 2012 to 4,904 in 2015. Alcohol-related crashes have also dropped slightly across the province, from 844 injury collisions in 2012 to 737 in 2014 — the most recent figures available. Fatalities dropped from 78 in 2012 to 68 in 2014.

“In 2014, we saw the lowest number of impaired-related fatalities in Alberta since we began keeping track. That’s encouraging.”

But numbers are irrelevant to those facing the devastating consequences of impaired driving. In the past two months, two teenagers and a young man were killed while others suffered serious injuries in four separate crashes in which police say alcohol was a factor.

The latest was Oct. 23, when a family was T-boned by an SUV running a red light on Metis Trail and Country Hills Boulevard N.E. The 19-year-old male in the front passenger seat died at the scene. His sister and parents were seriously injured. The 28-year-old driver of the SUV was taken into custody, but later released pending an investigation.

“We are confident alcohol is definitely involved and we’re confident some degree of speed is involved,” Stacey said at the time.

Less than a week earlier, a 17-year-old was killed and her friend and father critically injured when the dad lost control of the vehicle, rolling it on McKnight Boulevard on Oct. 18. Police say speed and alcohol appear to be factors in the 5 p.m. crash.

Police suspect alcohol in two other collisions in September. On Sept. 22, a driver believed to be impaired left a restaurant and crossed the median on 24th Street in Woodbine, hitting another vehicle head-on, causing injuries to both drivers. On Sept. 16, a 23-year-old motorcyclist was killed when he lost control on Memorial Drive, hit the median and was thrown from his bike.

A red ribbon is tied to a car aerial during Project Red Ribbon, MADD Canada’s campaign to promote sober driving during the holiday season. This year it runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 2, 2017.

“We keep seeing collisions like last week with the devastation of families. Maybe that’ll click in to those still not hearing it,” said Tracy Franklin, past president of MADD’s Calgary chapter.

“I appreciate stats are going down, but crashes like this just highlight the fact they’re still happening out there.”

As the holiday season approaches, police will be out in force with checkstops and are once again teaming up with MADD Canada on Project Red Ribbon. The campaign launches Nov. 1 and runs until Jan. 2, 2017. People are asked to tie a ribbon on their vehicles, key chains, purses, briefcases and backpacks as a symbol of a commitment to drive sober.

While Alberta is showing an improvement in numbers, a study this past summer ranked Canada No. 1 among 19 wealthy countries for percentage of traffic deaths linked to alcohol impairment. 

The U.S. Center for Disease Control study found that while fewer people were dying from car crashes in Canada (the crash death rate in 2013 was 5.4 per 100,000 people, a drop of 43 per cent from 2000), the proportion of deaths linked to alcohol impairment was 34 per cent, higher than any of the other countries in the survey.

The United States came second at 31 per cent, followed by Australia (30 per cent) and France (29 per cent). Countries with the lowest percentage of fatal crashes tied to alcohol were Israel (3.2 per cent), Japan (6.2 per cent) and Austria (6.8 per cent).

Source: Calgary Herald


Last updated on: 2016-11-02 | Link to this post