With Saskatchewan the begrudged recipient of the worst drunk driving statistics in Canada, those combatting the problem are looking at education, enforcement and legislation.
Using 2011 numbers, Statistics Canada recently released a police-reported drunk driving rate of 683 per 100,000 people in Saskatchewan. Canada, by comparison, sports a rate of 262, while Prince Edward Island is the closest to Saskatchewan, at 493.
Dealing with cases of impaired driving is the No. 1 traffic enforcement and education policy RCMP deal with, Sgt. Ron MacRae said.
“Prince Albert RCMP are actively providing education resources in Prince Albert regarding drunk driving, and we’re very actively prosecuting impaired drunk drivers wherever we find them.”
These are difficult statistics to interpret, MacRae clarified, with the latest statistics taking the legal system into account.
“That may be more of an indication of how active the police are in investigating that offence than how big the problem is,” he said.
Last year, Mothers Against Drunk Driving singled Saskatchewan out as garnering the worst impaired driving death rate in Canada, at 8.44 per 100,000 residents. The national average is less than half that, at 3.18.
This, MacRae said, is a more useful statistics, indicating that Saskatchewan does come with its challenges.
“I think we have to have a conversation about drinking and driving in Saskatchewan,” the province’s NDP SGI critic Danielle Chartier said.
“It’s not acceptable that out of all the provinces we have the highest number of impaired driving instances, which is almost two times the rate of a very similar province -- Manitoba -- that has the same geography and very similar demographics.”
Manitoba’s police-reported drunk driving rate in 2011 was 322.
“This is a notorious statistic and it’s just not acceptable,” she said.
With the Saskatchewan Party making alcohol more accessible through recent regulation changes, the other side of the coin needs to be addressed, she said.
Prince Albert RCMP are actively providing education resources in Prince Albert regarding drunk driving, and we’re very actively prosecuting impaired drunk drivers wherever we find them. - RCMP Sgt. Ron MacRae
“We need to be doing work on developing an alcohol strategy that would look at addictions, which would look at binge drinking with youth – those types of things.”
Mayor Greg Dionne had addressed this issue in Prince Albert, calling for shorter off-sale liquor store hours -- an initiative currently pending both the provincial government giving control to do so to municipalities and council backing the idea.
The provincial government needs to investigate why these unacceptable impaired driving rates exist, Cartier said, adding that this is something the Saskatchewan NDP is going to be pushing for in the spring.
“It is a very important issue,” she said.
“Every impaired driver that gets behind a wheel is a potential tragedy that has huge consequences for lots of people.”
On a positive note, SGI Auto Fund vice president Earl Cameron said that it’s good to see law enforcement taking the initiative to check drivers.
But, he added, “the alarming part is that people still take the risk to drink and then drive.”
“We’re still looking at what other provinces and territories are doing and where they are having some positive results, and that constantly goes on with traffic safety.”
SGI plans to continue to fund various programs, such as Operation Overdrive, which pays overtime costs to allow for greater police presence during traffic safety blitzes.
The Saskatchewan Impaired Driving Treatment Centre in Prince Albert is another important initiative, MacRae said.
“It provides them with treatment and education while they’re in custody, and we help them with that education.”
With all things said and done, Saskatchewan maintaining its role as the drunk driving capital of Canada is still concerning, Cameron said.
“Having 50 people killed each year because of drinking and driving is just too many. Hopefully the number in 2012 decreases.”