Last week’s drunk driving tragedy in my neighbourhood has stayed on my mind this week. Nothing further appeared in the newspaper as a follow-up to the accident, so I don’t even know the name of the man who died. I wanted to know more who he was and more about him; I wanted to try to understand what kind of person drives drunk, to understand how this kind of thing happens.
I find it odd that there has been nothing more in the news about this tragedy; it seems contrary to the typical way car accidents are treated in the media here in Edmonton. Typically, we learn something about the background to the accident and about the person who died through comments from loved ones. This time, there has been nothing. I wonder why that is. I also find it odd that no memorial has been set up at the crash site. Typically, ribbons, signs, stuffed animals and/or candles are placed in tribute at the scene by loved ones. This time, there has been nothing (I suspect the one bright orange plastic ribbon around the pole was, as likely as not, placed there last week by police.) I wonder, too, why that is.
In the original Edmonton Journal report on this crash last week, Sgt. Brad Manz of the Edmonton police department expressed discouragement that people continue to drive drunk despite the risks we all know are involved. He stated that 11 impaired drivers had been arrested and 11 more had had their licenses suspended during a CheckStop on the Thursday prior to the accident. I wonder how many more people drove drunk that night and were not caught. I wonder how many of those will drive drunk again. I wonder how many of those will keep driving drunk until they are injured or killed—or worse, injure or kill others. Most of all, I wonder why they don’t just stop.
By coincidence, I am currently working on a group project in my Professional Writing degree program at Grant MacEwan University that involves some research into data on drunk driving. I knew before I started looking that the numbers would be shocking; I had no idea just how shocking.
Here are some of the staggering statistics about drinking and driving in Alberta (quoted from Developing an Alberta Alcohol Strategy, Background Information, page 9 – 18, © Alberta Government 2007, available at: aglc.ca/pdf/social_responsibility/Alberta_Alcohol_Strategy.pdf)
• Although the rate of impaired driving in Alberta has steadily declined, it is still higher than the national rate.
• In 2006 (excluding the three territories), Alberta had the third-highest rate of impaired driving, behind Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island (Statistics Canada, 2007).
• In 2004, nearly one in 10 Albertans (214,000 individuals) reported that they had driven a vehicle within two hours of consuming two or more drinks. That is about the entire population of the cities of St. Albert, Red Deer and Lethbridge.
• Twice as many Albertans (18.2%) reported having been passengers in a vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking (2006). That is about the entire population of the cities of St. Albert, Red Deer and Lethbridge PLUS Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie and Sherwood Park.
• In 2006, 11,698 impaired driving incidents were reported in Alberta (Statistics Canada, 2007). That is more than 32 every day for an entire year.
• In 2005, 5.3% of Alberta drivers involved in injury collisions and 19.2% of drivers involved in fatality collisions had been drinking or were impaired (Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, 2006). Which means that about 1/5 of fatal collisions involved a drunk driver!
• In 2005, alcohol was a significant factor in Alberta traffic collisions involving motorcyclists (6.9%), pedestrians (14.2%) and bicyclists (5.2%) (Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, 2006).
• In 2005-2006, there were 434 zero-alcohol-tolerance suspensions for drivers licensed under Alberta’s graduated driver licensing program. This is almost twice the number of suspensions (226) recorded the previous year (Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, 2004). So the numbers of young people driving with alcohol in their system is increasing.
At last weekend’s crash scene, Sgt. Manz expressed a thought very similar to my own this week. “I just don’t understand why people of this city can’t get the message” about drunk driving (quoted in the original Edmonton Journal article by Jana G. Pruden).
The next questions should be, “Is it possible to get the message accepted by more of the people who don’t get it yet and, if so, how do we do it?”