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(Andy Dean/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Andy Dean/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Safety

Carnage from drunk driving remains high Add to ...

One-third of drivers killed in crashes in Canada are legally drunk. More than 700 people are killed and 3,000 injured in alcohol-related crashes each year.

These statistics from 2009 (the last full year for which statistics are available), excluding Newfoundland and Labrador, indicate the degree to which DUI (driving under the influence) remains a major social and public safety problem in this country.

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Jurisdictions from coast to coast have worked hard since the 1980s to address the situation with education, awareness programs and stronger laws and enforcement. Initial progress was impressive, with the proportion of fatally injured drivers with BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) in excess of the legal limit declining by 27 per cent from 1981-1988. But from that point, there has been only minimal improvement and the carnage on the highways remains high.

This relative lack of progress has been attributed to a single fact – heavy drinkers, repeat offenders, those who persist in driving after drinking whether or not they are licences to do so, are responsible for a very significant part of the problem, making further improvements more difficult. Existing practices regarding assessing the risks created by these individuals and programs aimed at altering their behaviour are apparently not effective.

A new report from the Ottawa-based Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) looks at existing risk assessment, related driver licensing and the criminal justice system. It contains recommendations for law makers and those involved in assessing the risks created by these drivers and the rehabilitation programs designed for them.

The report, dubbed Impaired Driving Risk Assessment: A Primer for Policymakers, is the result of a partnership between TIRF, the Addiction Research Program of the Douglas Mental Health University (McGill) Institute, Université de Montréal and Université de Sherbrooke with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in Transdisciplinary Studies in Driving While Impaired Onset, Persistence, Prevention and Treatment.

The report says improvements in risk assessment and treatment, combined with changes in the justice system, would make more effective use of limited time and resources.

Currently first-time, low risk-for-repeat offenders are made to take remedial programs originally designed for criminal offenders. TIRF says this is a waste of resources and that there is evidence to suggest applying such intensive interventions to offenders who pose a lower risk of recidivating might have the reverse effect. The report suggests special measures for repeat offenders.

TIRF conducted extensive research into existing regulations, practices and results. The study involved remedial program practitioners and criminal justice professionals in Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario, a judge and probation officer in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, 65 Crown attorneys, defence attorneys and probation officers in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

“The use of research-based risk assessment tools and practices is one means to attain this goal and a linchpin to making the best use of available resources,” it says. The study’s recommendations on how to protect the public from these individuals takes into account the need to use resources more effectively in times of shrinking budgets. The recommendations include:

 

Remedial services and programs

  • Improve the quality of risk assessment
  • Increased training for staff
  • Increased emphasis on prevention activities
  • Encourage the use of best practices
  • Strengthen program measures
  • Provide transportation options
  • Increase communication and information sharing
  • Explore the need for programs and services tailored specifically to younger drivers

 

The justice system

  • Consistent use of alcohol interlock devices
  • Target unlicensed drivers
  • Create affordable options for offenders
  • Increase communication and information sharing

“It is unmistakable that the criminal justice and driver licensing systems employ the measurement of risk and apply risk assessment instruments using very different strategies and for different purposes,” the report concludes.

“It is important to recognize these clear distinctions to ensure that these strategies are not only complementary but synergistic. Such distinctions are paramount to help shape the development of effective policies, processes and legislation designed to protect the public from these offenders in the short– and long-term.”

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