There’s some good news in Saskatchewan. Drunk driving collisions are down. However, another disturbing finding means it’s not yet time to celebrate: fatal impaired driving collisions are up.
SGI released its annual traffic report this week. It tracks accidents (a word that includes, though it shouldn’t, collisions caused by drunk drivers) for the year 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are complete.
Collisions weare down about 13 percent from 2013 – 27,571 as opposed to 31,752. Fatal collisions are down 2.6 percent.
However, alcohol was a bigger factor in fatalities that year. 41 percent of fatal collisions involved alcohol, as opposed to 28 percent the previous year. In fact, impaired driving was the number one cause of road deaths in Saskatchewan.
If collisions, fatal and otherwise, are down in the province, but more of the fatal ones involve alcohol, what does that tell us? One year doesn’t offer enough data to determine for sure, but if the trend continues, it suggests that non-drinking drivers are having fewer collisions. They are heeding safety messages and taking fewer risks.
That leaves the heavy drinkers and problem drinkers, particularly ones who take to the road with a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Statistically high-BAC drivers are more likely to cause fatalities.
The need, then, is for a way to keep repeat DUI offenders – the ones who are likely to cause fatalities – off the roads. The best solution is strong laws and an effective ignition interlock program. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
In its latest Provincial Impaired Driving Report, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) gave Saskatchewan a D-minus for its efforts to combat impaired driving. While it does have a better than average ignition interlock program (including mandatory interlocks for first DUI offenders), the province does not impose a minimum 3-year interlock order for second offenders. From its research, MADD has come to regard second offenders as particularly dangerous and in need of extended interlock time.
Statistics never tell the whole story. What’s important about fighting impaired driving is the human cost of the crime, which gets lost when one talks in terms of percentages. Saskatchewan needs to keep an eye on the numbers, but also address the human cost of drunk driving with better laws and enforcement.