Ponoka drunk-driving more than doubles Alberta average

Ponoka’s impaired driving rate is more than two-and-a-half times the provincial average, residents learned at a public meeting this week.

Ponoka’s impaired driving rate is more than two-and-a-half times the provincial average, residents learned at a public meeting this week.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm said the town’s 2012 rate of 1,181 impaired drivers per 100,000 population was 2.62 times the provincial rate of 450 per 100,000.

That sobering number was part of numerous statistics Ponoka’s RCMP detachment head shared at a public meeting on Tuesday attended by about 40 people over the town’s proposed bylaw to limit liquor store, off-sales and pawn shop hours.

“I think people were surprised by these figures,” Chisholm said on Wednesday.

Council passed first reading of a bylaw to restrict liquor store sales and hotel liquor off-sales to 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Liquor delivery would end at 10:30 p.m. Pawnshops would be restricted to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The bylaw is modelled on Wetaskiwin’s in effect since Jan. 1, 2010.

Other statistics Chisholm presented include:

• One impaired driver is charged for every 84 Ponoka residents, compared to Red Deer’s rate of one for every 287 residents and Lacombe’s rate of one for every 780 residents.

• 54 per cent of impaired drivers charged in 2012 live within 40 km of Ponoka, compared to 28 per cent in 2009, a “substantive shift” since Wetaskiwin’s bylaw was enacted.

• 24 per cent of charges were laid against town residents in 2012 compared to 41 per cent in 2009.

• 109 charges were laid last year compared to 49 in 2009.

• RCMP recorded 207 calls last year to liquor stores and nightclubs, not including calls outside those locations or considering a nightclub closed during the year.

Chisholm pegged RCMP time for an impaired driving charge — not including court time — at five hours for the primary investigator plus two more for the breath testing technician.

He told the audience that 250.5 hours of 2012 overtime went to impaired driving investigations.

“If we’ve increased our presence and we’re still getting these numbers, there’s a problem.”

He said the bylaw is about “harm reduction in our community and other communities.

“This is cause and effect. We had an imbalance regionally,” he said, referring to Ponoka’s liquor outlets being open later than Wetaskiwin’s.

Another presentation by Donald Voaklander, a professor at the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research at the University of Alberta, examined data from Wetaskiwin since its bylaw enactment.

He said reductions were shown for emergency injuries, assaults, self harms, collisions and impaired driving charges based on hospital visits and RCMP calls.

He concluded that Wetaskiwin’s bylaw has produced “a modest but consistent reduction in injury and enforcement outcomes” and “small in terms of individual impact, but at the aggregate level, substantial improvement.”

Ponoka Mayor Larry Henkelman said the meeting “was well represented by the businesspeople and the public and there were some good questions raised. Council will take those into consideration.

“That’s why we gave it first reading: to open it to the citizens of Ponoka to get feedback.”

Ponoka has six liquor stores, two off-sales locations and one pawn shop.