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Drunk driving charges are the highest in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan continues to lead country in impaired driving
WATCH: New statistics come as no surprise for many Saskatchewan families torn apart by drunk driving. Saskatchewan still has the highest rate of impaired driving of all Canadian provinces. Ryan Kessler reports.

Saskatchewan had far more impaired driving charges in 2015 than other provinces — more than twice as many as Manitoba — figures released by Statistics Canada today show.

Saskatchewan’s 575 drunk driving charges per 100,000 population is nearly triple the national rate, and over five times the rate in Ontario.

Part of the high number reflects the fact that there is a lot of drunk driving in Saskatchewan, and part of it reflects the fact that police there have fewer tools to deal with drunk drivers than those in other provinces, explains Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“Saskatchewan has high enforcement,” he says. “That’s a positive thing. The other thing is that they have a relatively young population, and they have a high incidence of impaired driving deaths.”

READ MORE: Wasted: The culture of drinking and driving in Saskatchewan

On the other hand, he points out, other provinces deal with less-serious impaired driving cases under provincial law, meaning they don’t show up in national statistics.

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“Sometimes an officer will kind of look at a guy, he’ll fail, but he’ll say: ‘You know what? I’m going to give you a three-day licence suspension right here, right now, and I’m going to impound your vehicle for three days.’ Sometimes that makes a bigger impact than the person getting off on the criminal charges. Not all police do that, but it happens.”

Saskatchewan law doesn’t provide for this kind of penalty, though changes are underway to bring it into line with other provinces.

READ: Saskatchewan getting tougher on impaired driving with new laws

WATCH: It’s a familiar statistic now. Saskatchewan has the highest impaired driving rates in the country, claiming 53 lives last year. Today new legislation was introduced that brings the stiffest penalties in Canada for blood alcohol content as low as 0.04. Provincial affairs reporter David Baxter has the story. 

Saskatchewan getting tougher on impaired driving with new laws
Saskatchewan getting tougher on impaired driving with new laws

The national statistics show a steady fall in criminal impaired driving charges since 2011, but Murie argues that impaired driving itself has stayed much the same — police have been dealing with more cases without laying criminal charges.

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British Columbia dealt with nearly 20,000 impaired drivers in 2014 through administrative licence suspensions, for example. At one time, all those cases would have resulted in criminal charges.

READ: Three B.C. cities make top 10 drunk driving list

“That’s not a bad thing,” Murie says. “If you can do it much quicker administratively, and focus on rehabilitation, that’s a better program than a criminal system that’s really focused on punishment.”

Only four per cent of the charges were for drug-impaired driving (double 2009’s number) but Murie says that understates the problem.

“Those numbers would be double if we were really arresting all the drug-impaired drivers out there,” he says.

In 2015, twice as many Ontario residents reported driving after using cannabis as did in 2010, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. The report shows that 5.6 per cent of men and 7.6 per cent of people between 18 and 29 admitted driving after using marijuana.

READ: One-fifth of Sask. residents approve drinking and driving over short distances: Mainstreet poll

If that’s what’s happening on the road, your charges should follow that, and they don’t,” Murie says.

Drug-impaired driving has had close attention recently as Canada prepares to legalize recreational marijuana. In a report made public Tuesday, a federal panel studying legalization said that science doesn’t yet support having a legal limit for marijuana consumption, as we do for alcohol.

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Marijuana is the second-most common drug, after alcohol, found in the bodies of drivers who die in crashes.

READ: Two decisions Parliament will have to make about pot-impaired driving

Other takeways from the report:

  • Impaired driving rates are highest in small cities and lowest in large ones. While Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal together have over a third of Canada’s population, they have only eight per cent of the country’s impaired driving-related deaths. StatsCan suggested that it may be related to better public transit in large cities.
  • Most impaired drivers are male, but the proportion who are women is rising. Women made up 20 per cent of those charged with impaired driving in 2015, up from eight per cent in 1986.
  • Drivers aged 20 to 24 are most likely to be charged, and charges are most commonly laid between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.
  • People who play sports were more likely to drink and drive. Golfers were the most likely to admit drinking and driving in 2014 (10 per cent, as opposed to 3.9 per cent among people who don’t play a sport). Other sports that also stand out for drunk driving: skiing and snowboarding (8.5 per cent), fishing (7.9 per cent) and bowling (7.1 per cent).