January 5, 2016 8:00 pm
Updated: January 12, 2016 1:43 pm

Drunk drivers can convince themselves they’re OK despite warnings

WATCH ABOVE: A fourth charge of impaired driving causing death will be laid against a 49-year-old woman this week following the deaths of a Saskatoon family on Sunday. Today, Joel Senick takes a look at impaired driving numbers and asks why they continue to be so high.


SASKATOON – A number of inherent personal biases can lead a person to believe they are safe to drink and drive, even after receiving years of warnings, according to a Saskatoon-based psychology professor.

“People believe that nothing bad will happen with them,” said Valery Chirkov, a Russian-born psychology professor at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S).

“Everything … is happening with others and not with them.”

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READ MORE: Friends trying to cope after family of four killed in Sask. collision

The comments from Chirkov come days after an alleged drunk driver struck and killed a family of four north of Saskatoon. Between 2010 and 2014, roughly 6,800 crashes in Saskatchewan have involved alcohol, leading to 277 deaths, according to Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) statistics.

Many people harbor cognitive biases when it comes to perceiving danger, said Chirkov, who studies the psychology of safety at the U of S.

“Although we are rational human beings, our recognition sometimes is not perfect,” he said.

“We are very bad in the evaluation of probabilities, especially low probabilities.”

Chirkov said a number of biases directly related to ones decision to drive, including an illusion of superiority, a false sense of optimism, and a fatalistic bias. He’s currently studying personal prejudice as part of a U of S research team on mine safety.

“This is how we are made up to make our life easier,” said Chirkov.

“All these biases are part of [making] our world manageable.”

Reserving judgment is important, according to lawyer

If a person does feel emboldened behind the wheel and ends up getting arrested for impaired driving, Saskatoon-based defence lawyer Mark Brayford warned against rushing to judgment.

“We don’t know whether the person had a medical issue, we don’t know whether it was a vehicle issue,” said Brayford.

“They need to keep an open mind about the culpability or lack of culpability of the accused.”

Brayford said “regrettably, impaired driving is one of the most common charges” that private criminal defence lawyers deal with. If a person is found guilty, sentences can vary depending on blood alcohol level, age and previous record, according to Brayford.

“The sentences can be widely different,” said Brayford.

Brayford also said the type of person who generally commits a vehicular homicide will “probably regret that for the rest of their lives,” said Brayford.

“I am not suggesting they’re still not deserving of punishment, but I am also suggesting that from my experience, this is a type of offender that typically is very remorseful, genuinely remorseful.”

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