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Why Isn't Drinking Driving Message Getting Through?

You don’t have to be a genius or even well educated to know this – drinking and driving is a pointless and perilous practice that can have devastating consequences. But after a suspected impaired driver allegedly killed a young mother and critically injured her baby on Wednesday night, many are asking an often heard refrain: why aren’t people getting that message?

It’s a question Chantel Parkes ponders all the time. Her father was killed by a drunk driver and she knows what the family is going through. “I pray for him and his family,” she notes quietly as she surveys her father’s picture. “This was my dad. He was killed ten years ago this November 7th … I was 14 at the time.”

Experts estimate as many as four people a day lose their lives to drunk driving (See ” Drunk Driving By The Numbers”, below). For the folks at Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, it’s just another sad day at the office. “I think the problem is that it’s how we as society look at it,” assesses MADD’s Andrew Murie. “They happen in ones and twos. And there’s a lot of them. Because they only happen in ones and twos, if all of a sudden it’s a busload, I think we’d go into shock and you’d see immediate response by government officials.”

But the problem is already critical – impaired driving is the number one criminal cause of death in this country. Most of those charged have consumed a lot of alcohol in a short period of time. “A 200-pound man to get over a hundred, would have to have almost seven standard drinks,” calculates Murrie. “So seven regular strength beers in two hours on an empty stomach. And that’s just to get to the bare minimum of the charge.”

Chantel has done her best to turn her own tragedy into triumph, working to get the message out that drinking and driving is like steering your car into a brick wall on a dead end street. “Some people don’t listen to reason, have the mentality that it will never happen to them. Until it does. And that’s the really unfortunate part. So we just keep doing what we do in hopes that one day, everybody’s going to get the message.”

But as the previous night’s disaster appears to show, that day can’t come soon enough.


Drunk Driving In Canada By The Numbers

According to the 2006 report from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, concerns about impaired driving came in at the very top of a survey about what worries us most on the roads – even beating the price of gasoline by more than 20 points.

Major Road Worries

Drinking drivers: 88%
Red light running: 75.5%
Child safety: 73.9%
Street racing: 73.2%
Distract driving: 68.7%
Speeding: 66.1%
Cell phones: 65.9%
Drowsy drivers: 60.5%
Older drivers: 32.1%
Young drivers: 29.88%

Why do people drink and drive?

Believe they can drive safely: 42.2%
Won’t get caught: 37.2%
Don’t think they’re drunk: 32.9%
Can’t get home any other way: 25.6%
Drank more than intended: 25.3%
Penalties don’t deter them: 23.4%

Drinking and Driving Deaths in Canada

While the numbers of people killed in drunk driving crashes across Canada have deflated since 1995, they’re still disturbingly high.

1995: 1,296
1996: 1,097
1997: 1,070
1998: 986
1999: 906
2000: 864
2001: 874
2002: 850
2003: 902
2004: 815

People who have knowingly driven over the legal limit during a year

1998: 9.1%
2001: 7.3%
2002: 7.9%
2003: 6.3%
2004: 5.6%
2005: 6.7%
2006: 7.7%

The Foundation uses projections to show that some 1.7 million Canadians have driven a vehicle knowing they were probably over the legal limit – or some 10.2 million car trips.   Read their most recent report here. (.pdf file)

File photo

Other resources:

Department of Justice

MADD Canada

Drunk Driving quiz

What to do about drink driving