Most weeks I give you a round of up the week’s impaired driving stories for an important reason. Laid out all together, I think it provides a sense of the sheer number and prevalence of impaired driving in Canada. Yes, I totally go for shock and awe.
But this week, I gotta say, I was stopped dead in my tracks when I heard of this especially tragic story from the weekend.
A 21-year-old man is facing 11 charges including impaired driving causing death and failure to remain at the scene in relation to a collision near Grade Prairie, Alberta that left 4 teenagers’ dead and another in serious condition. The car with the 5 teens was struck by a GMC Sierra truck as they drove home from a party early last Saturday morning.
Matthew Deller, 16; Vincent Stover, 16; Walter Borden-Wilkins, 15; and Tanner Hildebrand, 15, lost their lives in the crash and 15-year-old Zach Judd was critically injured. The driver, as disgusting coincidence would have it, sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Adding insult to injury, he was released on bail with a scheduled court appearance for October 31.
How, as a progressive country, do we continue to ALLOW this to happen? Because to me, it’s our laws and justice system that continue to ALLOW this to happen because it’s tolerated!
Flat out. Straight up. It might be hard to read. You may disagree. But every day 4 Canadians are killed in impaired driving crashes while 190 are injured (source: MADD Canada) and those numbers aren’t getting any lower. The truth (for me at least) is that our Canadian Government REFUSES to take the necessary tough stand against impaired driving that is required to make a difference.
I know there are no easy answers and no one-stop-shop problem solvers. But what we are doing IS NOT WORKING! From my own personal experience I (any anyone with half a brain) can see how our criminal justice system is severely flawed when it comes to impaired driving. And sad to say but most especially when it comes to cases of impaired driving causing death and this is simply unacceptable.
The day that an impaired driver “gets away with it” because the breath evidence is deemed inadmissible (because the judge feels the police did not have “reasonable, probable grounds…”) is a sad day indeed…and it happens ALL the time. Let ALONE the difficulties that exist in getting blood evidence admitted into court – don’t EVEN get me started on that! Honestly, I feel like we (or more specifically our Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice) should hang our heads in shame that these catastrophic loopholes continues to exist without amendment!
But evidence admissibility is just one piece of a very large puzzle! I believe our approach must be two‐fold and all encompassing!
1. Deterrence: by changes to current system
- Give police more authority to gather pertinent evidence (for example, update the criminal code so that breath and blood samples can be taken when there is suspicion of impairment).
- Make blood samples mandatory of all drivers involved in a vehicular accident where there is a fatality (the dead people undergo full toxicology screening – make everyone involved in an accident where there is a fatality to undergo the same screening – the person who died deserves no less!)
- Increase minimum sentences for impaired driving causing death to 15 years (3 and 5 year sentences are a JOKE – it’s murder – treat it as such! Being drunk is not an excuse adequate to alleviate intent!)
- Increase minimum sentences and fines for first-time offenders (3 months jail-time for first time offenders along with a $5000 fine and a 3-year driving ban would be great).
- Increase minimum sentence and fines for repeat offenders (seriously…I would go hard-core with no second chances. You drive drunk again, you lose your license for life. It is a privilege after all).
- Implement vehicle forfeiture program for impaired driving or at a minimum in impaired driving causing death cases (if you use a gun in the commission of a crime, the gun is seized; if you earn funds in commission of a crime, those funds are seized; and if you commit a criminal offence with your vehicle, it should be seized).
2. Prevention: let’s stop impaired driving from happening in the first place!
- Increase public awareness and education
- Implement a random breath testing program, which could reduce the incidents of impaired driving by 20% saving 248 lives, 14,624 injuries and our country $16 Million dollars A YEAR!!!
Now, I know this post is getting long but hang in there with me because this is the biggee. When I’ve posted comments on news articles about my support for random breath testing, I’ve usually received a mass amount of thumbs down and very little vocal support and I don’t understand why. Random breath testing is widely acknowledged as one of the most effective means of deterring impaired driving. And it has been adopted in New Zealand, Australia and most European countries, and has helped to reduce overall road crashes and fatalities.
First off – what is a random breath testing program?
Random breath testing usually involves a stationary check stop where every passing driver is required to stop and give a breath sample. It is done with a testing device which means drivers remain in their cars, and the process is routine, quick and causes minimal delays.
Why does Canada need a random breath testing program?
Because existing breath screening laws suck and do not serve as a meaningful deterrent to impaired driving. As the law stands now, police can only demand a roadside breath sample if they have reasonable grounds to suspect the driver has been drinking.
This is key. You might think “whatever…they can just say they smelled alcohol on the person’s breath” and voila they are done! But it’s much more stringent than that. Especially if you want the charge to hold up in court!
Take our case as an example. The guy who hit and killed Mamma K was found guilty, BUT the CRIMINAL BLOOD evidence that proved his impairment at the time of the accident was deemed INADMISSIBLE in court (the judge said that the police did not have the appropriate grounds to make the blood draw). We narrowly escaped him being acquitted. Check out my impaired driving page for the whole story.
So I am here to vouch for the fact that we have essentially handicapped our police in fighting against impaired driving. Quite simply, we haven’t given them the necessary tools to do their job! Random breath sampling would change that!
Not to mention how many people can be impaired and show no outwards signs.
Ok – so what’s the deal – it would obviously be awesome so why doesn’t it get implemented?
There are those who criticize random breath sampling as an infringement of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms because essentially the police could ask for a breath sample without having any grounds what so ever! Just cause they wanna…
Our Charter protects us from things like being unlawfully searched. Police must have “reasonable probable grounds” to do so. They can’t just pull you over and search your car for no good reason. And right now, they can’t ask for a breath sample for no good reason.
And I get that! I do.
But I believe that random breath sampling should be an exception because when you drive impaired, you endanger the lives of others! You turn your vehicle into a weapon whereas if you are transporting illegal cigarettes or drugs, you are no more likely to kill someone in a traffic accident as the next guy. It’s a wee bit different!
I believe the safety of our general public far outweighs the charter issues here. Driving is a privilege, not a right!
Not to mention, that I, as a law-abiding citizen have the RIGHT to expect that my government is doing everything within its power to ensure that the streets are safe with appropriately licensed, sober drivers! And it’s not – period!
So there’s my take on the whole deal. I am not saying I know everything, that I have all the answers, or that if we implemented every one of these ideas impaired driving would be eradicated but with random breath sampling lives WOULD be saved! And right now, impaired driving causing death is the LEADING cause of criminal death in our country (nearly doubling our homicide rates). Every year, impaired driving claims more than 1,200 lives and causes some 73,000 injuries. Something different NEEDS to be done and needs to be done YESTERDAY!
WHAT are we waiting for? How many more senseless deaths and lost lives must happen before change happens?!
If you are Canadian and interested in helping support the call for random breath testing in Canada, check out MADD Canada’s site (bottom of the article) for a list of ways you can help!
Two years ago, my beautiful mother-in-law’s life was cut tragically short by an impaired driver. In honor of Donna Jean Kennie, please don’t drink and drive. Impaired driving is 100% preventable. Think about it.
How has impaired driving affected your life? Please…share…I want to know!
P.S. To the families of these teens, please accept my deepest sympathies on your loss! My heart breaks for you…please know you are in my thoughts and prayers!