Impaired driving’s a problem in Durham

Durham Regional Police Service station in downtown Oshawa. Photo credit: Emily Barnes

Despite more awareness about impaired driving, police say it continues to be a problem.

During the annual RIDE program at the end of last year, Durham Regional Police laid 106 impaired driving charges.

Since then, one man was even charged twice in less than 24 hours.

“Impaired driving always has been around for a long time, I can’t say it’s decreased,” says Staff-Sgt. Bob Elliott of Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS).

Statistics Canada says Canadians who play sports are most likely to drink and drive, and one in 20 drivers has admitted to have driven impaired. According to the agency, impaired driving accounts for 10 per cent of criminal offences in Canada, and accidents related to impaired driving are most likely to happen during the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Those accidents involving impaired driving are also the top leading criminal cause of death in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

However, these figures may be higher as they do not include crashes on private property, Crown land, military bases or anyone who has died on a snowmobile, ATV, farm vehicle or dirt bike, according to MADD Canada.

Trisha Dosaj-Markov, a volunteer with MADD Durham, says there were more people charged this year, however, more people were also pulled over.

“The fact that we have numbers this high has indicated that people aren’t getting the message,” she says. “A, it’s against the law and B, you will be caught.”

People caught for driving impaired are also aware of what they’re doing “every time,” says Elliott.

According to Statistics Canada’s National Survey, one in seven people that used cannabis admitted to driving at least once, two hours after use, and one in 20 Canadians reported driving with someone who had consumed marijuana two hours prior.

According to MADD Durham, in 2016-2017, almost two thirds of deadly car accidents involved the driver having alcohol or drugs in their system.

This took almost 1,500 lives in those two years, according to the organization. Around 15 per cent of the accidents involved the driver consuming alcohol, and 28 per cent of the drivers had drugs in their system. Meanwhile 16 per cent had both drugs and alcohol in their system.

According to Elliott, police have been dealing with people using drugs while driving for just as long as alcohol.

With new tests enforced in 2019, he says police are now able to demand an oral fluid sample from the driver as well as conduct a field sobriety test, sometimes even requesting a blood sample.

“Police were getting up to speed on how to deal with drug driving prior to the legalization of marijuana. The legalization hasn’t made no difference,” says Elliott.

People caught driving with a blood alcohol level of 80-119 mg face a mandatory $1,000 fine for a first offence. Those with more than two nanograms of marijuana in their system could also face a $1,000 fine or more.

For both, penalties increase depending on a number of factors.

Dosaj-Markov says people need a reminder that it’s everybody job to keep each other safe.

“As a member of society, we’re so quick to mind our own business but I think it’s our job to ensure reporting people because it keeps everyone safe,” she says.

Though impaired driving rates have decreased overall in the past 30 years, according to Statistic Canada, MADD Durham continues its work raising awareness in Durham, especially with young people.

MADD Durham has created its own project, Project Safe Prom, to raise awareness.

“We go to local high schools in Durham. We talk to students about their actions and the consequences their actions have, specifically pertaining to prom night,” says Dosaj-Markov.