Some believe the best way to reduce or eliminate drunk driving isn’t by making penalties harsher, but instead to install a breath alcohol ignition interlock device in every vehicle.
That’s what Mississauga-based criminal defence lawyer Mark Hogan would like to see.
“I think it’s a fair and a reasonable imposition on our rights to require people to have to blow into a device that measures the amount of alcohol and if they’ve got too much alcohol in their system they’re not allowed to drive,” he explained.
The devices are in use in some vehicles right now in the province, but only for those who have been convicted of drunk driving and only when the judge has imposed the interlock as part of a sentence.
While groups like MADD Canada are suggesting penalties for impaired drivers need to be stiffer in Saskatchewan, Hogan is adamant merely increasing consequences will not make the numbers go down. He insists the interlock devices are needed.
“I think that really would stem the tide of drinking and driving in large part. If we’re really serious about stopping drinking and driving we need to physically impose measures that don’t allow people to do it,” he said.
In a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Canada ranked number one among 19 wealthy countries for the percentage of fatal crashes where alcohol was involved. Figures from Statistics Canada indicate Saskatchewan has either been the worst or among the worst provinces for drinking and driving.
Former Deputy Premier Don McMorris, who also served as the minister responsible for both SGI and SLGA, just pleaded guilty to blowing over the legal limit while driving in a construction zone by White City. He received a one-year driving ban along with a fine of $1820.
At the end of July, Catherine McKay was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing the Van de Vorst family while drunk behind the wheel along Highway 11. In March, Jesse Taylor, 24, of Moose Jaw pleaded guilty to a drunk driving crash that killed three people.
Deadly crashes involving booze are still occurring. Penalties in the province have gotten more severe. The province and SGI have collaborated on ad campaigns showing the dangers of impaired driving.
So why aren’t people getting the message?
“It doesn’t seem to work to ask these people that are in an inebriated state, they’ve got alcohol in their system, to make a rational decision,” Hogan outlined. “For a lot of people, they may know or suspect that they have too much alcohol in their system but they make this irrational decision that they’re good enough to drive.”
Based on what he’s seen, Hogan suggested some people don’t want to fork over the money to pay for a taxi. If somebody’s short on time, having to come back to a restaurant, bar or friend’s place the next day to pick up a vehicle might logistically create a problem he added.
“I think people drink and drive because of the convenience frankly.”
Not everyone would likely welcome a device you’d have to blow in before being able to drive. Newer interlock devices also require drivers to blow in at various points while they’re already in motion as well. Hogan said there was pushback when seatbelts were first introduced, and it was rare for people to wear them until they became mandatory by law. Now, wearing a seatbelt isn’t an issue for most people. He sees a parallel with interlock devices.