By Cameron Rogers
In 2014, nearly 1300 Canadians were killed by impaired driving. Nearly 300 of these deaths involved individuals who tested positive for alcohol alone. Such statistics highlight the consequences of drinking and driving in Canada and Ontario. While the consequences can be tragic, downward trends in drinking and driving offences show positive developments.
Both government statistics and those from special interest organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) highlight trends in drinking and driving offences in Ontario. For example, in 1998, 18,889 people were charged with impaired operation in Ontario. This works out to a rate of 197.82 out of 100,000 people in Ontario. In 2019, 11,867 people were charged with impaired driving in Ontario. This works out to a rate of 86.85 out of 100,000 people in Ontario. While the statistics paint a downward trend in those charged, the seriousness of the offence should not be understated.
This blog post looks at the rates and implications of a few offences associated with drinking and driving.
Failure to Provide a Breath Sample
It is a criminal offence to refuse a breath sample if requested by police and Statistics Canada showcases its prevalence in Ontario. In 1998, the total amount of individuals charged with this offence in Ontario was 1,484. This works out to be 15.54 individuals charged per 100,000 people. In 2018, the number charged was 558, which works out to be 4.46 individuals charged per 100,000 people.
Despite the decrease in numbers, the legal liability should not be understated. Failure to provide a breath sample can lead to charges of refusing to comply with a police demand. A first offence can lead to a minimum $2,000 fine and a year driving prohibition. A second offence has a minimum punishment of 30 days in jail.
Parliament recently passed Bill C-46, which allows police to ask for a breath sample of any driver they pull over, regardless of whether the officer has a reasonable suspicion that person is impaired. This leaves police with wide powers to stop and test a driver in Ontario.
Such wide ranging powers can act as a deterrent for drinking and driving and help explain the general decrease in the prevalence of drinking and driving.
Deaths Caused by Impaired Driving
Drinking and driving can often lead to one or more people killed. A conviction for this offence is serious and can lead to a long jail sentence.
Over the past 22 years, the rate for individuals charged with impaired driving causing death has fluctuated from year to year. For example, in 1998, 19 people were charged with impaired driving causing death: a rate of 0.20 per 100,000 people. In 2018, 25 people were charged with impaired driving causing death: a rate of 0.22 per 100,000 people.
We have seen the continued vehicle safety measures develop into the 21st century. The advent of these technologies, such as the autonomous brake system, and the lane keeping assist system. The technologies can help explain the stable lower trend in deaths throughout recent years.
Despite the downward trend, the seriousness of the offence cannot be overstated. Impaired driving causing can lead to serious jail time for an offender
What is causing the General Downward Trends?
The downward trends in drinking and driving lead to interesting hypotheses about their cause. Some of the rationale for this downward trend may include the emerging popularity of ride sharing applications such as Uber and Lyft. The widespread availability of cars to take people to and from destinations can play a role in people forgoing the risk of drinking and driving. Individuals who are drinking have a ready to wait car at the tip of their fingers.
Further explanations for a reduction in drinking could be the proliferation of anti-drinking and driving campaigns. MADD began in 1989 and established a wide range of radio and television ads aimed at showcasing the consequences of drinking and driving. Studies have examined the effectiveness of MADD campaigns to raise awareness about the consequences of drinking and driving. Such campaigns include not only television advertisements but also coordination with law enforcement.
Another factor to consider is that in general cars are safer than they used to be, for example, air bags weren’t required in new cars until 1998 in the United States (which means we in Canada got them then too). Air bags have profoundly improved the survivability of car crashes.
A final deterring effect in terms of overall number of charges, is that there are many more opportunities for other drivers and civilians to call 911 now as almost everyone has their cell phone with them, than twenty years ago.
Nowadays, people can easily call law enforcement when they see another car swerving on the road. Cell phones make reporting drinking and driving very easy. This fact likely inflates the recent incidents of impaired driving somewhat.
Knowledge that anyone can reach the police at the push of a button can lead to many to think twice about getting in the car after drinking.
While any amount of drinking and driving is troublesome, the general downward trend is encouraging. It’s useful to view the general downward trend through an analogy. If we were to see cancer deaths cut in half over 20 years that would be a remarkable outcome. Such a perspective showcases the successes of anti-drinking and driving initiatives and changing attitudes about drinking and driving.
Nonetheless, drinking and driving allegations impose serious consequences on the accused and society at large. If you have been charged with a drinking and driving offence you will want to speak with an experienced lawyer who can assist you. Call the lawyers at Aitken Robertson for a free consultation. They can help you fight the charges!
 Fell JC, Voas RB. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD): the first 25 years. Traffic Inj Prev. 2006 Sep;7(3):195-212 at 206.