A new poll from Mainstreet has found one in five Saskatchewan residents think it is OK to drink and drive, as long as it’s a short distance.
According to Mainstreet, 19 per cent of people in the province said it would be OK to drive under the influence of alcohol if it was a “short distance on quiet roads.”
The number jumped up to 24 per cent among Saskatchewan residents aged 18 to 34.
Ted Gross was convicted of impaired driving causing death 18 years ago. Gross was driving home drunk when he ran a red light and killed 21-year-old Melissa Hoeving.
Gross served three and a half years in prison. He called the results of the poll “appalling.”
“I think Saskatchewan residents sometimes still have this attitude that with drinking and driving, it’s still alright,” he said.
“The certain invincibility I talk about is, I’d never thought I’d get caught. I’d never thought I’d be the one standing up going, ‘hey I’m the drunk driver that killed somebody,'” he said.
Gross said change starts with attitude, and both youths and adults have to work on changing indifference to impaired driving.
“Parents have to start pushing that message and teenagers and young adults have to push that message up the chain too, that it’s not right to drink and drive,” he said.
Saskatchewan General Insurance (SGI) president Andrew Cartmell said driver behaviour and attitudes in the province needs to be changed.
“I have to say, I’m very disappointed in the survey results,” Cartmell said.
“It clearly shows that we need drivers in Saskatchewan to make a personal commitment to not drink and drive.”
In 2014, the province introduced stricter penalties for drunk driving. For example, an inexperienced driver caught for the first time will face a two-month license suspension. The vehicle will be impounded for three days. Subsequent offences have harsher penalties.
According to SGI, it’s too soon to know if it’s working.
“It does take time for the traffic safety initiative to show whether they’re working or not. We’re still in the phase where we’re looking to see how well they’re working,” Cartmell explained.
According to Cartmell, the statistical team at SGI requires at least five years of data history to see if the new laws are working but said there may be information that does come out before that timeline.
“Saskatchewan has been labeled the ‘drinking and driving’ capital of Canada in the past and we’re seeing some interesting numbers in the polling,” said David Valentin, Executive Vice-President of Mainstreet Research.
“It’s important to remember however that there is a certain amount of social desirability bias – sometimes respondents are not as truthful when answering these sorts of questions. 15 per cent of Saskatchewanians tell us they’ve been a passenger in a car with a driver under the influence of alcohol – and 8% say they’ve driven under the influence of alcohol.”
Students against Drunk Driving (SADD) president Dylan Griffin said there’s a certain type of invincibility that drives young people to get behind the wheel after a drink.
He said the numbers were startling.
“Any number above zero is too high and we need to nip it in the bud,” Griffin said.
He said despite change coming slowly, SADD does not plan to stop educating youths about the dangers of impaired driving.
“If we can change one person’s mind about it, that’s a start. It’s still worth doing and you have to be persistent… It may take time but we’re going to keep working at it,” Griffin said.
According to Sgt. Ian Barr, the sergeant in charge of traffic with the Regina Police, the lax attitude around the crime spans demographics. He said there is no one group that he sees as being more prone to impaired driving charges.
“Every person that I’ve dealt with thought it’s never going to happen to me, but I see it happen to everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good person, doesn’t matter if you’re young or old,” Barr said.
Gross said he knows severe consequences better than anyone.
“You always hear those stories, you can kill someone, you can kill yourself but I never thought that would be me,” Gross explained.
He said he hopes change will come before more lives are lost.
“I wish people could feel sometimes, because they wouldn’t get behind the wheel. Because it’s not a fun thing to wake up to knowing what you done,” he said.
“Don’t be me.”
Fifteen per cent of the people polled in Saskatchewan by Mainstreet said they have been a passenger in a vehicle when the driver was under the influence and eight per cent said they’ve driven under the influence of alcohol.
The poll also asked if former Deputy Premier Don McMorris should seek re-election after his DUI charges. Sixty-eight per cent of residents thought he should not seek re-election.
Also, a rough political summer has affected Saskatchewan Party support around the province, according to the poll.
Premier Brad Wall’s approval rating remains mostly unchanged, voter uncertainty has led to a dip in party support.
In Regina, the NDP now leads the Sask. Party by 13 points — with 52 per cent of voter support.