What does it take for people to take drunk driving more seriously in Canada? You might say it takes a real disaster, but in fact, disasters happen all the time. Impaired driving kills more than a hundred people a year in Canada, and injures well over a thousand.
What it takes to change people’s attitudes – and laws – is outrage. And outrage is in fact is the word being used to describe horrific traffic incidents that took a number of lives, and which are in the news.
In July, a drunk driver rolled his truck and killed two people near Regina, Saskatchewan. A drunk driver in Toronto was recently given a controversial five-year sentence for killing two people in 2012. In September, a drunk driver in an SUV plowed into a van and killed a grandfather and three children, and also injured others.
Together, these terrible collisions have made an impression on the public. Grieving family members have been asking for harsher sentences for drunk drivers who kill.
At issue are two conflicting concepts of punishment – as payback for a c rime, and as a means of rehabilitation. A sentence that might be enough to change an offender’s attitude and allow him or her to emerge rehabilitated might not be long enough to satisfy those whose lives have been forever damaged by the loss of close family members.
The Criminal Code states that “a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.” The objectives are denunciation, deterrence and rehabilitation. The punishment also separates a person from society when necessary, and forces the offender to acknowledge the harm done.
In theory, sentences can be very stiff for causing death while driving drunk. The maximum sentence for a DUI homicide is life imprisonment, but that is rarely imposed. There are aggravating and mitigating factors which come into play.
The recent outrage implies that Canada is leaning too far toward leniency. However, drunk driving has been on the wane in Canada for a while, so policies such as active policing, education, and ignition interlocks are working. Let’s ensure we continue doing what works while respecting the pain and suffering of the victims and their families.