1,250 dead. 75,000 injured.
If these numbers were coming out of Afghanistan, Canadians would be in an outrage. Imagine half our forces assigned there dead. Imagine the entire city of Red Deer in ER.
But these numbers aren’t from the warfront.
They are from the bar. The pharmacy. The street.
On the home front.
Impaired drivers are responsible for at least half those numbers — and impairment comes in many forms. Alcohol would be No. 1, followed by street drugs and various pharmaceuticals (or ‘natural’ herbal remedies) — prescribed and self-prescribed over-the-counter.
According to a recent report in the B.C. Medical Journal, one reason why these numbers are so high is that inebriated drivers end up hiding out in ER. Due to our complex privacy laws and medical codes of ethics, a lot of drunk or impaired drivers get off scot free, simply because they can dry out in ER. No one has the legal right to report on their blood alcohol content (or other impairments) at the time of the accident.
The story was reported in the Vancouver Sun recently, and cites a report in the B.C. Medical Journal. It was horrifying to read that maybe seven to 11 per cent of those suspected ever get convicted (partly due to the complexity of gathering this key evidence) and that some 30 per cent of those impaired drivers who already hurt or killed someone, went on to do more impaired driving — in many cases more maiming or killing.
How can it be that someone’s constitutional right to privacy is so well protected that it helps them commit criminal acts over and over? What of the rights of the well-behaved, unimpaired, innocent driver or family who ends up maimed or slaughtered by these irresponsible swine?
The report called for a change in the laws — something that seems practical and self-evident to me. Upon admission to hospital, anyone involved in a collision causing death or bodily harm would have a blood sample taken immediately.
The sample would be stored in a secure lockup and if the police provide additional evidence, then the sample would be released. Apparently this type of law has been instituted in other Commonwealth countries — England, Australia, New Zealand.
Most traffic collisions entail serious medical outcomes that also cost the health-care system a fortune. So if our overall goal is to manage health care costs, keep the largest number of workable people alive and able to work, then it makes sense to also make sure that drivers, who commit one such offence, don’t get a chance to do it again.
If this makes sense to you, get writing and phoning your MP and MLA.
Further to this, I was astonished to read, when I stumbled across the blog of Calgary criminal lawyer Michael Bates, that Alberta’s new distracted driving law — a much touted effort to keep people from texting, talking on cellphones, doing their nails or spreadsheets while driving — has turned a former deterrent law into a joke.
From Bates; November blog What’s the Penalty for Distracted Lawmaking?:
“The old offence of ‘careless driving’ is commonly understood to be the most serious provincial driving offence. It carries a specified penalty of $402 and six demerit points against your licence. So, one could be forgiven for expecting even greater sanction from the new iconic Distracted Driving offence that our Transportation minister described as a ‘bold approach’ and prompted him to exclaim, ‘This is a great day for traffic safety in our province.’
“Alas, wading through all five of the new sections (about 1.67 sections per year by my math) of this earth-shattering legislative epic and the associated press releases, one will discover that the proposed penalty for this new quasi-crime is $172 and a total of zero licence demerits.
“Under the old offence, if caught texting or … whatever while driving and nailed three times for careless driving, I get an automatic licence suspension. Under the new offence, three distracted driving convictions and I pay a bit more than one careless … and I have no demerits. If I have enough cash, I can literally commit the offence every day, mail in a cheque and never change my driving habits.” (http://calgarycriminallawyer.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html)
What a total waste of legislation!
In the meantime, I have a simple idea. If you are drinking at a friend’s this season, crash on the couch, not on the road. Party hosts, be a best friend for life. When you party, bring out the mats, sleeping bags, camping gear and toss everyone’s keys out in a snowbank. Host a giant sleepover. Make it an annual event! Or guests, drink small or not at all.
For cash strapped school divisions — contract with local bars and restaurants and run a shuttle bus service to get those urban merry makers home.
Think. Your car is a weapon. When you’re loaded, it’s aimed to kill.
Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka-based freelance columnist.