This being August—the season of summer festivals, barbeques, and road trips—it is time to focus on the latest statistics underlying recent indications that Canadians and Americans are not getting the message about impaired driving.
A recent study (July 8, 2016) from the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Vital Signs: Motor Vehicle Injury Prevention — United States and 19 Comparison Countries, analyzed 2000 and 2013 data compiled by the World Health Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to determine the number and rate of motor vehicle crash deaths in the US and 19 other high-income OECD countries and, amongst other issues, analyzed the percentage of deaths involving alcohol-impaired driving by country. — Canada ranked highest; the US next.
Drilling down, the statistics show that the Canadian crash death rate in 2013 was 5.4 per 100,000 people, a drop of 43% from 2000 (the average decline amongst all 19 for the same period is 56%), but the proportion of deaths linked to alcohol impairment was the highest at 34%.
By comparison, the US crash death rate was 10.3 per 100,000 people (the highest!), a drop of 31% from 2000 (as noted above the average is 56%), and the proportion of deaths linked to alcohol impairment was 31%.
Next highest in the rankings was Australia at 30% and France at 29%. The lowest ranked were Austria at 6.8%, Japan at 6.2%, and Israel at 3.2%. In response, Andy Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada reportedly said, “The CDC does the best studies; their information is un-debatable. It’s a wake-up call. We need to do more.” Other reports on the study also cite unnamed safety advocates noting “impaired driving remains the top criminal cause of death in Canada.”
The good news from this study, however, shows that progress is possible, targeted efforts can be effective, and new strategies may be the answer. In Canada, these might include random roadside breath testing, which MADD Canada estimates could reduce impaired driving fatalities by 20%. Civil liberties advocates note, however, “Random breath testing by police… is an “extraordinary” measure that would have to pass Charter scrutiny and requires “compelling” justification.”
Another effort may already be underway in the form of Bill C-226, a private member’s bill introduced in early 2016 by Conservative MP Steven Blaney, the former public safety minister. Bill C-226 includes an allowance for mandatory roadside screening and imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for impaired driving causing death. Having passed the second reading, it is scheduled for committee review in the fall. Indications are, though, that the current government doesn’t support the mandatory minimums.
MADD Canada has also said that while most provinces now have administrative penalty regimes activated by blood alcohol levels in the “warning” range of 0.05 to 0.08, all should have them. And, finally, law enforcement by policing agencies, as well as their outreach involving “sharing of personal stories from officers who’ve witnessed the aftermath of fatal accidents” must also continue.