An RCMP constable performs a breathalyzer test on a motorist during a roadside check in Surrey, B.C., in 2010

Lucky to have dodged drunk-driving bullet

I’m not a big drinker. But once, decades ago, I was drunk behind the wheel of my car and I have been a passenger in vehicles operated by intoxicated drivers.

A former co-worker — a nice, decent guy — died in a highway crash many years ago in another province as a result of a drunk-driving disaster of his own doing that occurred after a party.

I’ve also had two dangerously close calls on the road involving impaired drivers heading in my direction.

One scary experience happened on Highway 103, outside Halifax, during a sunny summer afternoon. My wife and I were driving to Lunenburg to spend the night while our small children were being minded by a friend.

It was the early 1990s, and it was the first time we’d seized the opportunity for an overnight parental break.

The drive was easy and lovely. Suddenly, things changed.

A man driving a car on the opposite side of the highway, a single lane in each direction, pulled out to pass a vehicle reasonably far from our car. He was travelling downhill; I was about to drive up the hill.

Past the time when almost all drivers would have shifted back into the proper lane after successfully passing a vehicle, this car remained on our side of the road. “He’s not going to move over,” I thought, “and his car is getting awfully close to smashing into ours.”

Luckily, the menacing motorist was not going too fast and managed to keep his vehicle in a straight line.

I pulled over to the shoulder of the road, which was narrow and bordered by a guardrail, and came to a near-stop while the other car kept travelling toward the city on the wrong side of the road.

A phone call later to the RCMP provided us with this sigh-of-relief outcome: The other driver was drunk, and soon after our encounter, rolled his car off the highway. Police said he survived the crash, and no one else who faced him on the road that day was hurt.

And — my wife felt like telling the officer — our kids weren’t orphaned.

So, like many average Canadians who have dodged bullets fired by alcohol-fuelled drivers, I’m lucky that I wasn’t hurt (when I was young and stupid and taking risks) or killed — or that I didn’t injure someone else, or cause their totally avoidable death.

Others have not been so fortunate.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, about 2,541 people were killed in road crashes in 2010 in this country. Of those, MADD “estimates that at a minimum 1,082 . . . were impairment-related” fatalities, the organization’s website says. It says this figure is conservative due to under-reporting.

In 2010, about 63,821 people were hurt in Canada in crashes involving impaired vehicle operators, MADD’s website adds.

Behind these faceless statistics, of course, are victims, their relatives, friends, co-workers and others affected by alcohol- or drug-related crashes.

Lots of the deceased or injured may have been like me: first-time impaired drivers who acted irresponsibly, recklessly and treacherously. Many others were perhaps addicted to alcohol.

Then there are the innocent victims — men, women and children killed or hurt in crashes caused by intoxicated drivers. The human cost is sad and appalling; the social cost is just mind-boggling.

MADD says that in Canada in 2010, impairment-related road crashes causing deaths, injuries and property damage cost around $20.6 billion, “using a social cost model” prepared by the federal government.

In Nova Scotia, the annual health, social and economic costs of harmful alcohol use to citizens amounted to $419 million, said a provincial government report six years ago tied to a responsible-drinking plan the province rolled out.

The plan was unveiled in 2007 at a medical centre in the Halifax region. Health-care workers heard one in five Nova Scotians who drink booze do so in a way that harmfully affects their own health and well-being.

They heard harmful liquor use accounts for an average of 230 deaths per year, 3,100 hospital admissions and 42,000 hospital days. As well, heavy drinking is associated with ill health from chronic diseases.

Now, here we are 72 months after the government announced its strategy to combat the harmful effects of excessive drinking in Nova Scotia. Has the culture of accepting the misuse of liquor been replaced by one of safe, health-conscious consumption with reasonable limits?

Nope. Not even close.

Are people still drinking and driving, killing themselves and/or others by doing so? The answer’s obvious.

Ask police officers, paramedics, firefighters, MADD officials and medical personnel in the province’s emergency rooms. Ask family members of the dead and the survivors of drunk-driving crashes.

Unfortunately, our road casualties are a symptom of a deeper malaise in Canada’s Ocean Playground.

“Alcohol intoxication, risk-taking, binge-drinking, under-age drinking are all apparently a rite of passage in Nova Scotia. It is part of our heritage,” John Ross, an emergency department physician in Halifax, said in a pointed commentary published July 27 in The Chronicle Herald Weekend.

I was a dumb and foolhardy 23-year-old, back in 1979, when I drove home alone, at night, impaired by too much beer.

It’s a sobering life lesson I had the good fortune to learn outside of a trauma unit or a pine box.

Source: Chronicle Herald


Last updated on: 2013-08-06 | Link to this post