What does it take to get the message?

Andy Walker
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Capital Beat column

News the number of impaired driving convictions is down for a third year in a row is certainly a positive development, but one statistic is frightening.

Despite a series of tough measures, many of them targeted at repeat offenders, the number of people with three or more impaired driving related convictions actually went up last year from 65 to 75 – the same level as in 2011. The 2012 total was the lowest since 2006. The highest total in the last eight years for the repeat offenders was 87 in 2009.

That should not be allowed to overshadow the positives. The number of first-time convictions (169) is an eight-year low and is currently on a three-year decline. The number of second-time offenders (53)  is also at its lowest level in eight years – it was 73 in both 2012 and 2011. The total number of convictions was 297, compared to 327 in 2012 and 373 in 2011.

Certainly that bodes well for the future, but one has to wonder what it’s going to take to keep multiple offenders off the road.

Last year, Transportation Minister Robert Vessey guided a series of measures through the legislature aimed at combating the problem.

Leading the list is the mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device on the vehicles of first-time impaired-driving offenders for one year, and increasing its mandatory use to two years for second-time offenders and five years for third-time and subsequent offenders, with an additional year added if a passenger under age 16 was in the vehicle at the time of the offence.

The vehicles of impaired-driving offenders can be impounded for longer periods of time – a six-month impoundment for an offense causing bodily harm that previously carried an impoundment of 60 days.

The fee for getting your driver’s licence back has been increased from $200 to $500 – that’s not even mentioning the increase in insurance premiums.

Billboards have been placed across the province encouraging people to report impaired drivers and the province is looking at a special licence plate number sequence that would help police identify repeat offenders.

Alcoholism is a disease and, just like any other disease, the responsibility for recovery should rest largely with the patient. Laws that allow servers or hosts at private parties to be charged if they serve or sell an impaired driver too much alcohol should be taken off the books. They offer the impaired driver (especially the repeat offender) an “out” for their actions.

Driving a vehicle while impaired is a criminal offence that the impaired driver, and only the impaired driver, should have to answer for.

That is not to suggest the rest of us should not try to stop somebody who is obviously impaired from driving. Indeed, I would argue we have an obligation as a responsible member of society to do all we can to prevent the tragedy that could occur any time an impaired driver gets behind the wheel. 

However, we should not be held criminally responsible if those efforts fail.


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