Calgary is experiencing the agonizing paradox that is well-known to those who study or try to prevent drunk driving: even when the statistics tell us that things get better, every death and injury is still a horrible event. The encouraging numbers mean little to the victims.
Calgary is a case in point. Impaired driving has been on the decline for decades here. But the death of two teenagers in late October at the hands of drunk drivers broke hearts and shattered lives. No talk of improved numbers will make a difference to the families of the victims.
Lawmakers have a big job: create legislation that reduces the likelihood that impaired drivers will reoffend. Road safety organizations have a bigger job, perhaps: to change the perceptions of society about what drunk driving is, and how one needs to behave when out drinking.
In Alberta, both the law and public awareness of drunk driving issues has improved significantly in recent years. Among the legal measures that have helped stem impaired driving deaths:
- Roadside administrative licence suspension (ALS) for those arrested for impaired driving
- Vehicle impoundment
- Ignition Interlocks required for impaired driving offenses
- Relicensing after interlock program based on performance in program
Public awareness is harder to gauge, but the fact that arrests are down means that fewer people are making the decision to drink and drive. More people are using designated drivers or public transportation. And the fact that even those arrested are showing lower blood alcohol numbers means that the general drinking culture is subsiding in Calgary and Alberta.
There is probably no way to eliminate drunk driving entirely. But Canada still has a long way to go. Alberta can take pride in some progress, but the sad stories that arrive in the headlines every week or so remind us that statistics never tell the whole story. The pain that drunk driving collisions cause is real. Any efforts we can make to bring down the numbers in the abstract will also be preventing suffering that is very real.