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Better Driver

A new approach to curbing drunk drivers Add to ...

The headline read: Drunk driving case adjourned. The story said a local man charged with drunk driving for the 14th time had his case adjourned for 2 1/2 weeks at the request of his lawyer. The 51-year-old man was arrested March 26 and charged with impaired driving, having a blood alcohol reading above 80 milligrams and driving while disqualified. He was released at that time on a $2,000 “recognizance” with conditions “that he not drive, possess keys for a motor vehicle, consume alcohol or drugs or go to any establishment where the sale of alcoholic beverages is its primary purpose.”

Exactly one month later – April 24 – he was stopped by police and charged with driving while prohibited but was not held in custody. After he missed two dates on the impaired driving charge, a Canada-wide warrant was for his arrest was issued on June 25. In October, he was picked up in another province and arraigned on two charges of failing to attend court and one of breaching a court order. He has nine convictions for having a blood alcohol level above 0.08, three for refusing to provide a breath sample, one for impaired driving and 11 for driving while disqualified.

Does anyone else here see a problem?

As we head into the holiday season when more Canadians drink and drive than at any other time of the year, the time is ripe for Canadians to speak out. To me the problem is twofold – the instances of drinking and driving and the repeat offender.

On the one hand we have people who make a stupid decision – or fail to make a decision. If they are lucky they get caught and don’t cause a crash resulting in injury or death. In the majority of cases they will not repeat the extremely dangerous practice.

On the other hand, we have the repeat offender, like the man above who obviously is not influenced by the laws and punishment currently in place. It is tempting to simply say “let him get himself killed” but the more likely scenario is that he will cause others to be killed or injured.

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation, in association with two other charitable organizations – Arrive Alive Drive Sober and the Student Life Education Company have launched a national education program aimed at reducing impaired driving. Change the Conversation “is a research-based resource designed to help communities across Canada increase their understanding of the problem, how it has changed in the past 20 years, and how it can be addressed.”

The program is intended to address “persistent offenders” like the man above, “those who have not gotten the message,” says Robyn Robertson, TIRF president and chief executive officer.

Funded by the Brewers Association of Canada, the initiative hopes to make facts about impaired driving available to the public, interested professionals and create a forum for people who have chosen not to drink and drive to share their reasons for doing so and what they are doing to prevent it.

The program uses current research to counter misconceptions and misinformation and identifies practical strategies that it says can be relied on to “promote behaviour change and prevent drunk driving” in communities.

“Recent research shows that shame and negative message strategies can be ineffective and in some cases they can actually increase the unwanted behaviour. This program was designed to focus on the positive. It emphasizes that the majority doesn’t drive after drinking and encourages constructive and informed discussion about the issue,” says Robertson.

The program’s website – changetheconversation.ca – is structured in a question/answer format as a tool that communities, educators, parents and youth can rely upon to learn about the problem and what they can do to prevent it.

The program also includes a series of public service announcements distributed to radio stations, each of which touches on a little known fact about impaired driving. A series of posters reflecting the PSAs’ messages are available through the program’s website. Fact sheets, brochures and other resources agencies can use to promote solutions will also be made available through the site.

Frankly, I doubt a program like this would change the habits of the above-mentioned driver. But hopefully it will prevent someone else from reaching that stage.

Halifax-based Richard Russell runs a driving school.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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