Why you should care
Because 10,000 deaths are preventable each year.
Canada’s got great air. In fact, it ranks as one of the best spots in which to stop and take a deep breath. And lucky for you, Canada has more than a million kilometers (of two-lane equivalent) roads to help you get to the great outdoors, even if you can’t pronounce Banff. But you might want to consider taking the train.
Impaired driving is the No. 1 cause of criminal death in Canada.
This July, the Centers for Disease Control released a report that identified the involvement of alcohol in 34 percent of Canada’s motor vehicle crashes. The high percentage earned Canada the dubious distinction of No. 1 out of 20 countries. Using numbers collected from 2000 and, most recently, 2013 by the World Health Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the CDC calculated motor crash death rates per 100,000 populations, per 100 million miles traveled and per 10,000 registered vehicles. Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz, an author of the study, noted the importance of calculating for factors that differ across countries, including population size, vehicle miles traveled and number of registered vehicles. Thirty-four percent translates to roughly 10,000 lives lost each year, or 27 people every day in Canada.
Kind of a shock for the country that also ranks as World’s No. 1 Goody Two-Shoes. Sadly, According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Andy Murie, Canada has ignored best practices against drunk driving for years. And while Murie isn’t surprised by the high-risk rate, he says the newer twist is that Canada now outpaces countries like the United States, predicted at 31 percent, and Israel, which employs the same legal drinking age of 18, at 3.2 percent. Another surprise among the list was Austria, which is known for high alcohol consumption per capita but drives at a lower risk with 6.8 percent.
It’s tricky to pin down a single culprit behind the issue of impaired driving — policies, enforcement and technology, for one thing, are inconsistent both in Canada and the rest of the world. For instance, under the Criminal Code of Canada, the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) when driving is 0.8 g/l. But in most provinces and territories, there is an additional “administrative maximum level” of 0.5 g/l. To further confuse matters, it’s 0.4 g/l in Saskatchewan, and in Quebec the 0.5 g/l limit only applies to commercial vehicles. Travel habits, infrastructure and the availability of public transportation also factor in.
Seat belt use and speeding can also affect outcomes, says Sauber-Schatz. “Road safety is a complex issue — there’s no silver bullet.” And while the CDC’s findings are making Justin Trudeau look bad, the Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics indicates an overall decrease in general vehicular fatalities. Its recent study, in 2014, reported the lowest numbers since 1970. The Canadian government did not reply to request for comment.
Murie believes Canada’s answer lies within a trilogy — “Where you have a new law passed, great publicity surrounding it, and then significant police enforcement,” Murie says, pointing to Bill C-226. It creates tougher sentences for impaired drivers and repeat offenders, streamlines the judicial process through an expedited process, and, lastly, allows for random breath testing. If the bill is passed, Canada could see a safer Christmas season. Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Steven Blaney, who introduced the bill, believes the fear of randomized testing alone will be a great deterrent. “The problem with drunk drivers, especially those who are addicted, is they can hide their symptoms,” Blaney said. “Even though you may not appear to be drunk, you can be a real threat to others.”