On Monday, a local man was charged with impaired driving for the sixth time, one of those news stories that temporarily astonishes. Six?

Temporarily, because Tuesday’s news was on its way.

It brought the story of a local man who was charged with impaired for the fourth time. Great week on the roads.

Both drivers were involved in minor accidents, one of which occurred at 9 a.m. Draw your own conclusions.

Have we become complacent in the war on impaired driving? Bottomed out, maybe, in terms of results? Or have we, collectively, turned our attention to more modern menaces, like texting and driving, thinking we have that “other problem” more or less solved?

You wonder.

Statistics Canada recently compiled figures on impaired-driving “incidents” across the country, from 1986 until 2011.

The rate, per 100,000 population, fell by more than 50 per cent from 1986 until 2006, where it flatlined. It then rose slightly in four of the next five years, as though, as a society, we had done all we can, grabbed the low-hanging fruit, moved on.

(The mind jumps to smoking rates, which are far lower than 30 years ago, but seem stalled, leaving the stubborn few.)

Chronic impaired driving has been a problem for a long time.

The reason is fairly simple. There is a segment of boozer out there who doesn’t respond to fines, jail terms, suspensions, or shame. Our parliaments may do what they want. These guys will just keep getting behind the wheel, licence or no licence, insurance or no insurance.

“It’s especially frustrating,” says Andrew Murie, the chief executive of MADD Canada, which combats drinking and driving across Canada.

“These people have problems. And we’re allowing them to fall through the cracks. We’re not getting to them on the first, second and third. We’re almost, as a society saying, too bad about you.”

More can be done, he argues.

In an interview Thursday, he talked about three themes: early intervention, sufficient punishment, and meaningful rehabilitation.

MADD has put out a position paper on the repeat offender.

Crown attorneys, it argues, should consider applying for long-term or dangerous offender status for chronic drunk drivers — like they do for repeat sex offenders who can’t be trusted when they leave prison.

In a nutshell, the designation means the offender would have to agree to assessment and treatment in jail — and stay there until he reaches a point deemed ready for release — whereupon he would continue to be supervised for up to 10 years.

“You know what? It’s a bit of a carrot. You want to get help with this problem, you need to do your part.”

The paper argues that a fourth impaired driving conviction (within 10 years) should carry a minimum prison sentence of two years, followed by a reviewable lifetime driving ban. A fifth conviction, meanwhile, should earn a driver five years in prison, then a lifetime driving ban.

(Any associated injury or death, says MADD, should result in much longer sentences.)

“We firmly believe, once you get to four times, you’ve had every opportunity in the world, you should be designated a long-term offender.”

Murie also said it makes more sense to use alcohol interlock systems and conditional licences for repeat offenders than simple licence suspensions, which are difficult to enforce.

(Ignition interlock systems require the driver to provide a breath sample before the vehicle will start.)

“It’s not all about punishment,” he said. “It’s controlled rehabilitation.”

Among the top priorities for reducing impaired driving and its associated carnage, he listed three: encourage random breath tests, allow for the impoundment of vehicles when drivers blow over 0.05, and have a better strategy for dealing with chronic offenders.

“We can do way better.”

When you delve into the details, it is only luck that is preventing more chaos on our roads.

In this week’s first case, a van rear-ended a vehicle at a stop sign. Shortly after the 2:15 p.m. accident, the driver blew more than twice the legal limit. God help the mothers with strollers on that sunny afternoon.

The statistics are not entirely encouraging. Surveys have found about one in 15 Canadians has admitted driving while impaired at least once in the previous year. Responses were higher for young people.

Those with high alcohol content in their blood (twice the limit) represent only about one per cent of drivers at night and on weekends, but they account for nearly half the drivers killed in those periods.

We’ve come a long way on this issue. True. But have we since, smugly, given up?

Source: Ottawa Citizen


Last updated on: 2013-08-17 | Link to this post