Some of the most festive times of the year are associated with an increased risk of automotive accidents due to impaired driving. Any time alcohol, drugs, exhaustion, distractions, and driving are mixed, the results can be unsafe driving conditions that increase the risk of injury or death.
CounterAttack is a police-run roadblock tactic that catches drug and alcohol impaired drivers, and helps reduce injuries and fatalities. CounterAttack campaigns have been run in B.C. for over 35 years, and typically take place during July and December. A major part of the program is getting the message out that B.C.’s impaired driving laws are tough, impose harsh penalties on impaired drivers and make it likely impaired drivers will be identified and removed from B.C.’s roads.
Statistics Canada points out that impaired driving remains one of the most frequent criminal offenses in Canada and is among the leading criminal causes of death. In 2015, police reported over 70,000 impaired driving incidents — that’s a rate of 201 incidents per 100,000 people. Of the total number of incidents, nearly 3,000 involved drug-impaired driving.
The rate of impaired driving in Canada has steadily decreased since data were first collected in 1986. In 2015, it was 65 per cent lower that the rate in 1986 (577 incidents per 100,000) and four per cent lower than the year prior. Furthermore, the number of fatalities have dropped since the campaign started in the 1977. At that time, the number of fatalities averaged 300 per year. By 2019, that number dropped to 68, but it is still not enough because impaired driving is 100 per cent preventable.
The RCMP in B.C. launched their Winter CounterAttack campaign the beginning of December.
Clearwater RCMP Detachment Commander Grant Simpson said that drivers should expect to see road checks throughout the month of December and into January on any given night and on any given street or highway throughout the Clearwater area.
“Thank you for your patience during these road checks as our officers do their part to keep you and your family safe during this holiday season,” he added.
According to Statistics Canada, in contrast to alcohol, the number of drug-impaired incidents have been rising since 2009. This was the year following legislative changes leading to drug evaluation officers and the year data collection began. Drug-impaired driving rose from two per cent of all impaired driving incidents in 2009 to four per cent in 2015.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States says alcohol and certain drugs reduce functions of the brain and impair thinking, reasoning and muscle coordination.
These are all skills that are essential to the safe operation of motor vehicles. Some of the typical effects of impairment increase proportionally to the level of blood alcohol concentration. Furthermore, interactions between alcohol and other substances in the body can increase the level of risk when driving.
Impairment laws vary by area. In British Columbia, those on a graduated licensing program are under a zero-tolerance policy. This means a license may be suspended for 12 hours if there are any levels of alcohol, THC or cocaine in their system. Other consequences include a re-start of the 24-hour (N) licensing period, or retesting if the driver is a learner.
Sadly, 67 people die in collisions involving impaired driving each year. Almost half of them happen in the summer, while others happen during the holidays in December, according to ICBC.
Blood alcohol concentration laws typically consider a blood alcohol content, or BAC, of .08 per cent or above as criminal. In B.C., BAC levels of .05 and higher have legal consequences. Fines can range from $600 to $4,060, and suspensions from 24-hours to 90-days, according to ICBC.
The NHTSA says that a BAC of .08 or higher contributes to poor muscle coordination, leading to slower reaction control, decreased balance and impaired vision and hearing. Memory may be diminished and self-control and reasoning are compromised at this point as well.
Police also ask, if someone is suspected of driving while impaired or an impaired driver is spotted on the road, to pull over to the side of the road, call 911 immediately, and provide the license plate of the vehicle, vehicle description and direction of travel.
It is important to note that driving under the influence of illegal substances, alcohol and even prescription medications can lead to crashes. But a recent, and increasingly pervasive driving problem, is distracted driving.
According to Transport Canada distracted driving happens when a driver’s attention is taken away from the driving task because they are focused on something else such as texting, talking on the phone or to passengers, eating or drinking, or using the entertainment or navigation system.
The risk of collision goes up when a driver’s eyes and attention are taken off the road as distraction impairs the driver’s awareness and performance. It makes drivers slower to notice changes on the road and less able to safely respond to critical events — or they may miss them entirely.
According to data from Transport Canada’s National Collision Database, “distracted driving constributed an estimated 21 per cent of fatal collisions and 27 per cent of serious injury collisions in 2016.” Unfortunately, these numbers are part of an upward trend as distracted driving-related collisions are up from 16 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively, a decade earlier.
About 26 per cent of collisions involve phone use, even hands-free phone use and 47 per cent of Canadians admitted that they have typed out or used the voice-memo feature to send a message while driving, according to the Canadian Automobile Association. If a driver texts, they’re 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near collision.
Canadians also say that texting while driving is one of the biggest threats to their personal safety on the road.
There are economic losses attached with distracted driving. Health-care and lost productivity costs are upwards of $10 billion annually — about one per cent of Canada’s GDP, according to the Government of Canada. In addition, the economic and social consequence of road crashes in Canada is estimated to $25 billion per year.
Preventing vehicular accidents, injuries and fatalities comes down to using common sense. Every driver can help stop distracted driving, especially as the weather and driving conditions worsen over the winter season.
No one should text and drive, even when you are stopped in traffic or at a traffic light.
Store phones out of reach or set “away” messages and quiet alerts while behind the wheel. If a phone must be used, pull over to a safe area to do so.
Avoid using any device that may take your attention away from the task of driving.
Know the side effects of medications you are taking and how they can impair driving. If taking a newly prescribed medication, do not operate a vehicle until you understand how it makes you feel.
Pull over if you are feeling drowsy behind the wheel. Opening the window or listening to loud music may not be enough to keep you awake.
Never mix alcohol or drugs with driving. Opt for a rideshare service or taxi if you will be having a few drinks at a bar or restaurant. Even one or two drinks can impair drivers.
Impaired and distracted driving is no joke. It is a problem throughout the year, but one that is largely preventable.
— With files from Black Press and Metro Creative