Impaired Driving: A Little Diversion

Yesterday, I blogged about the importance of education as the ultimate deterrence of impaired drivers. Today, as foreshadowed by yesterday's editorial cartoon in the Calgary Herald, I will comment on Premier Redford's interest in changing the Alberta Traffic Safety Act to impose tougher consequences on impaired drivers.

These changes are to reflect the recent amendments of Part 4 of the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act, which imposes, at the roadside, automatic driving prohibitions from 24 hours up to 90 days, depending on your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) as shown on an approved roadside screening device. But the repercussions do not stop there: the car may be impounded at the roadside, if the police officer feels it is "necessary" to prevent the offender from driving. Of course, why it would be deemed necessary, considering the police officer just took the offender's licence, is a different matter. Additionally, a monetary penalty will be assessed at the roadside and must be paid within thirty days.

In other words, a lot of quasi-judicial punishment is being meted out at the roadside on the basis of a police officer's opinion. The repercussions are even tougher should the driver receive a warn on the roadside screening device and even tougher still should the driver fail. All done at the roadside, without judicial intervention, without due process, and all mandated by provincial legislation

So what if it lacks due process, as long as it works and deters people from drinking and driving? Well, let's look at the actual affect this kind of legislation has on impaired driving. According to BC Premier Clark, the new legislation cut in half deaths caused by impaired drivers. Indeed, the legislation was first introduced by the BC Solicitor-General in April of 2010 on the basis that tougher measures were needed to combat the increasing numbers of impaired drivers. Although, I was unable to find any statistics or reports supporting Clark's bravado, I did find recent statistics debunking the Solicitor-General's comments. In the crime statistics released by Statistics Canada on July 21, 2011, the rate of impaired driving in Canada dropped 6% in 2010, consistent with a general decline of the offence since 1981. Furthermore, the rate decreased, from 2009 to 2010, by 8% in British Columbia and by a whopping 14% in Alberta.

The reality may be that tougher sanctions will not deter people and certainly will not stop innocent teenagers from dying in horrific circumstances. Instead, other ways, which have a proven track record at reducing the offence, such as the use of the ignition interlock program, should be considered. Additionally, enhanced funding and expansion of educational programs targeting the youthful driver should be employed.

Education does work to change attitudes. In the end, roadside justice is a mere diversion from the real issue and the real problem.