Recently-released statistics show B.C. cities have some of the highest rates of police-reported impaired driving incidents in Canada.
But the data can be interpreted in different ways: Do these cities really have higher rates of drunk driving, or just really good enforcement?
Statistics Canada ranked 33 census metropolitan areas across Canada and found St. John’s, Newfoundland had the highest number of police-reported incidents at 411 out of every 100,000 people.
Kelowna, B.C was in second place at 323. In total, there were three B.C. cities in the top 10: Kelowna, Victoria, and Abbotsford-Mission.
B.C. was the only province to have as many as three cities in the top 10.
At the bottom of the list, five cities in Ontario reported the lowest number of police-reported incidents: London (90), Toronto (87), Windsor (86), Ottawa (82), and Kingston (62).
But despite having several cities in the top 10, B.C. ranked ninth in Canada among provinces and territories for impaired driving rates. The number was low thanks to a smaller rate in Vancouver at 164.
With tough drunk-driving laws, the B.C. government says that alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths have decreased by 52 per cent since the Immediate Roadside Prohibition regulations were passed in 2010.
Municipalities like Abbotsford also put high importance on catching drunk drivers. Cst. Ian MacDonald of Abbotsford Police (APD) says road safety is one of their top five priorities.
“Impaired driving continues to be a road safety issue worthy of every amount of attention it gets from APD. Despite education and enforcement, too many drivers in Abbotsford and elsewhere put others at risk by making the choice to drive impaired,” MacDonald said.
MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie says the numbers are complicated.
“It’s more about police practice than the numbers around impaired driving. B.C. by far does more enforcement on impaired driving than any other province,” he said.
“Police are doing a really good job of catching who’s out there. B.C. is the model program for Canada.”
Murie says B.C. could have better enforcement for young drivers. He suggested the province move to a zero-tolerance policy for drivers aged 22 or younger, like several provinces have done.
Across Canada, police reported 72,039 incidents of impaired driving in 2015, with 122 of those causing death, 596 causing bodily harm, and 3,000 involving drug-impairment. In general, numbers have been declining since 1986, but drug-related impairments have been increasing since 2009.
It was that year that legislation was changed to introduce drug recognition experts and data on the type of intoxicating substance began to be collected.
Drunk driving also appears to be a charge that largely affects men more than women, however the gap may be shrinking. Eighty per cent of people charged with impaired driving in 2015 were men, but the number of females charged has increased over the last 30 years.
In 1986, women accounted for only eight per cent of drunk driving charges.
Another factor affecting the impaired driving rate appears to be sports and social activity, Statistics Canada found.
Data shows 7.3 per cent of people who play a team sport reported driving drunk in 2014 compared to only 3.9 per cent of people who didn’t play sports. People who played golf and skiing or snowboarding were the most likely to drink and drive, at 10 per cent and 8.5 per cent respectively.
A recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found Canada has the highest percentage of driving deaths linked to alcohol among 19 “high income” countries.
The study found that although fewer people are dying in motor vehicle crashes in Canada, the proportion of vehicle-related deaths linked to alcohol impairment was 34 per cent, more than any other country surveyed.
Drinking and driving always has police on high alert during the holiday period. Like many years, Operation Red Nose will be available in several B.C. communities this year, including:
- Kamloops (also operating on Dec. 23, 26 and 30)
- New Westminster
- North Shore (North Vancouver & West Vancouver)
- Prince George (also operating on Dec. 30)
- Tri-Cities (Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Belcarra and Anmore)
- Williams Lake
Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 17 and on New Year’s Eve, Operation Red Nose provides rides home to people who have been drinking or are too tired to drive. The program, which accepts donations, provides three volunteers per trip to help people get home safely.