Wednesday July 09, 2014

Gilchrist: Aim sober message at right group

After the latest RCMP CounterAttack blitz, police said in a news release that Kamloops drivers are not getting the message about drinking and driving.

Twenty-one boozy drivers lost their licences — including 10 who got 90-day immediate roadside prohibitions and had their vehicles impounded for 30 days.

But the numbers are not that different from last year at this time. What disappoints police is that they are static, there has been no meaningful drop in the number of tippling motorists hitting the streets.

In the interest of public safety, the police like to try to scare us straight and with more people out celebrating at this time of the year than others, this is when they like to drive the sobering message home.

They acknowledge, however, that the tougher drinking and driving laws implemented in 2010 with their instant penalties are making a difference. The province reports the number of fatal crashes involving alcohol has dropped by more than 40 per cent.

But if Mothers Against Drunk Driving and an NDP MP in Quebec have their way, police would have a new tool to combat drinking and driving.

St. Jean MP Tarik Brahmi tabled a private member’s bill last month that would allow police to do random checks to see if drivers have been drinking.

As it stands now, police have to have a reason to ask someone to blow in a breathalyzer, like smelling alcohol on a driver’s breath.

MADD cites similar laws in New Zealand and Australia achieved big reductions in impaired deaths and estimates it would reduce impaired-related crash deaths here by 20 per cent.

But aren’t people supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Giving police such power means you don’t have to have done anything wrong to be tested.

And they’re already armed with better tools that are taking drinking drivers off the road.

Besides, it’s not the average person who’s had a glass of wine that is causing the most accidents. According to ICBC, 16- to 25-year-olds account for the highest number of impaired drivers in crashes (32 per cent) and men make up 72 per cent of all impaired drivers.

The province also did a roadside survey in five communities on alcohol and drug use in June 2010 and June 2012, asking 2,513 randomly selected drivers to provide a breath sample.

Compared to similar surveys dating back to 1995, the new levels of drinking and driving were the lowest on record and it found men between 25 and 34 “remain the most likely to drive after consuming impairing amounts of alcohol.” Plus those who continue to drink and drive, tend to be “frequent and/or heavy drinkers.”

No penalties are going to stop the latter group; alcoholism is a sickness that requires treatment.

But the data suggests one obvious option. Rather than directing more police resources toward random breath checks on people who are not necessarily breaking the law, why not target the most likely offenders  — young men. That could take the form of an ad campaign geared toward places they’ll see it, like sports venues, for instance.

The message is getting out there, but needs to be driven home to target certain groups more effectively.

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