Impaired driving incidents in Grande Prairie are just over half of where they were two years ago.
According to Statistics Canada’s 2016 survey on police-reported crime, there were 371 reports in the municipality last year, up slightly from 368 the year before. However, they peaked at 725 in 2014.
In the rural area, there’s been a different trend. The numbers increased from 83 to 124 between 2015 and 2016, which is a 65 per cent increase when looking at the rate per 100,000 residents. The highest number of rural incidents since 1998 was 194 in 2004.
Across Alberta, arrests have been trending downwards for the past nine years. In 2016, the province saw 12,191 incidents. Nationally, incidents have also been decreasing since 2011. In 2016, 70,509 incidents were recorded, more than 1,300 less than the year before.
CEO of MADD Canada Andrew Murie attributes the downward trend to many factors.
“Both the provinces and the federal government have toughened up the various penalties for impaired driving and I think finally people are getting the message. We’ve had some terrible crashes that have killed families and I think the public has finally come around to not accepting impaired driving and also another big thing that has happened across the country is if people see a suspected impaired driver they call 911.”
Murie says to further reduce the numbers he would like mandatory screening to become law. He explains that currently, police can only ask for a roadside breath sample if they have reasonable grounds to do so.
Mandatory screening would be mainly used at stationary check stops and would have every driver provide a breath sample. Murie is anticipating issues with the legalization of marijuana.
“We strongly suspect is what we’re going to see is a continued decline in alcohol impaired fatalities, deaths and charges but a great upsurge in the drug impaired ones.”
He adds that as long as governments invest money in the oral fluid screening devices for police and if there are some campaigns before legalization, they won’t “have to spend 30 years like we have with alcohol,” combating impaired driving.
Drug impaired driving violations have declined in Grande Prairie over the past two years. In 2016 there were 10 incidents, four less than the year before and 22 less than in 2014. Provincially, there was a slight jump this year. Across the country, the numbers rose to a total of 3,098 drug-impaired driving violations.
To anyone considering driving impaired, Murie says, “It’s not worth it. You don’t want to change your life forever and you don’t want to change somebody else’s life forever. The alternatives are very low cost, minimal and it’s the right decision to make.”
With files from Angie Mellen, 106.1 The Goat