Tougher penalties sought for impaired drivers

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Boasting the worst record for impaired driving in Canada, Saskatchewan’s statistics aren’t just bad, they’re staggering.

 

Randy Hoback

Recognizing Saskatchewan’s impaired driving rate of 683 incidents per 100,000 people -- more than double the national average -- Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback said that it made sense for him to tackle the issue head-on.

“In Saskatchewan we’ve had an increase in the number of drinkers and drivers and that needs to stop,” he said. “It’s not acceptable.”

Hoback recently introduced a private member’s bill, titled An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Blood Alcohol Content), which is expected to go up for debate in the near future.

The bill calls for more severe penalties for impaired drivers who have a blood alcohol content that exceeds twice the legal limit, among other things.

“What we’re targeting is the group that is severely drunk and the penalties match that severity,” Hoback explained.

“These are guys that when they get behind the wheel they cause 50 per cent of the fatalities on the road, and 31 per cent of our youth fatalities related to alcohol are twice the legal limit.”

An increase in both prison time and fines for those convicted of driving more than twice the legal limit of .08, as well as those who harm or kill someone while driving more than twice the legal limit is a good next step, but not the fix-all, Hoback said.

“It’s meant to be part of the programs that we need to put in place to make sure people don’t drink and drive,” he explained. “There still needs to be a huge educational factor enforced on this.”

The provincial government is also taking action in combatting the problem of impaired driving.

Spurred by a staggering record number of 183 driver-related fatalities in 2012, of which 67 were related to impaired driving, the provincial government formed a non-partisan traffic safety committee to figure out some solutions.

Chaired by Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie, the group banded travelled throughout the province during the summer of 2013 gathering information at various meetings and hearings.

The provincial government is currently in the midst of following through on the committee’s findings, including the enactment of stiffer penalties for impaired driving.

These are guys that when they get behind the wheel they cause 50 per cent of the fatalities on the road, and 31 per cent of our youth fatalities related to alcohol are twice the legal limit. Randy Hoback

On June 27, these stiffer penalties will be put into place, SGI manager of driver programs Sandy Crighton explained this week.

A plethora of changes are highlighted by ignition interlocks installed for a minimum of one year for those who are convicted of impaired driving, and the automatic impounding of vehicles for those who blow .08 or higher.

“Our goal is to educate people to separate the acts of drinking and driving so we don’t have any more deaths,” Crighton said. “Our goal is to not see people in our programs, because it has a serious effect on those family members and the whole of the province when someone is killed.”

Everyone knows or has at least heard of someone who has been killed or adversely affected by impaired driving, Hoback said, noting that the 2012 death of local business leader Ben Darchuk was the first name that comes to his mind.

“Here’s a guy -- a pillar in our community -- a small businessman who’s excellent to his employees, has a young family. It’s such a waste and a shame, and the punishment did not fit the crime,” Hoback said.

The person responsible for Darchuk’s death, Tanner Hallett Courtney, 22, had an alcohol level of .123 at the time of the incident as well as traces of cocaine in his system.

Courtney was sentenced two years less a day in a provincial correctional facility.

Stiffer penalties should join public education in rounding out a society less accepting of impaired driving, Hoback concluded.

“It puts a little fear in their heart so they don’t do it, and then I would consider that an accomplishment.”

City police are ready and willing to use everything tool the government provides them to take on impaired driving, Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners chair Richard Ahenakew said.

“They don’t take impaired driving lightly, for sure, because we’ve had issues here in the past few years that have huge impacts in our community,” he said. “The consequences can be life-altering, and are in many cases."

Organizations: Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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