Think of what it means for impaired driving to be on the rise. It means that more people are making one of the stupidest decisions possible. More drivers are willing to risk their own – and others’ lives.
How many more? In Essex County, 37 percent more. And that has the Ontario Provincial Police there worried. This year the number of drunk driving arrests and collisions is up that much compared with the same period in 2015.
It’s hard to fathom what’s going on. The dangers of impaired driving are well known. In fact, it’s safe to say that anyone who doesn’t know that driving drunk is dangerous doesn’t want to know. Public service messages from organizations like MADD and government agencies have hammered home the point. A wealth of information is available on how alcohol compromises coordination, reaction times, and concentration.
So some people refuse to get the message. But why are there more of them in Essex County this year? Perhaps it’s an anomaly, and numbers will go down next year.
Another explanation is that the things that bring down impaired driving numbers aren’t working as well this year as they did in 2015. Those measures include:
- Police visibility
- Penalties for DUI
- Ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
- Availability of alternatives for getting home after drinking
- Mass media campaigns
- School-based instruction programs
Of these, which might have declined within a year? We doubt public transport is less available now than it was in 2015. And the media and school campaigns are still out there.
It might be that police visibility has declined. Arresting a drunk driver or setting up a sobriety checkpoint creates a deterrent effect that goes beyond the individuals who are caught – it causes other drivers to re-think their drinking plans.
The reports about the Essex County rise don’t mention how many of those arrests are repeat offenders. Drivers with prior DUI convictions are more likely to drive while suspended, drive while impaired and cause collisions. For such offenders, ignition interlocks are a proven deterrent. If Essex County is not ordering interlocks in all possible cases, this could influence recidivism.
Unfortunately, most of the actions that the OPP take will be after the fact. They will increase patrols and catch more impaired drivers. Other citizens, too, can do their part by calling 911 and reporting drunk drivers, and keeping friends from driving drunk.
Apart from that, there’s nothing anyone can do but try to convince drivers not to make the decision to drink and drive. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do year after year.