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New laws aim to change culture of impaired driving in Saskatchewan

A Saskatchewan man whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver says new, tougher laws coming into force could reduce the number of impaired driving incidents.

Allan Kerpan’s 25-year-old daughter, Danille, was killed on Thanksgiving weekend in 2014 when a truck going the wrong way collided with her vehicle on Highway 11 near Bladworth, between Regina and Saskatoon.

READ MORE: Drunk driver sentenced to 4 years for fatal collision near Bladworth

Kerpan says provincial legislation that kicks in Jan. 1 could be game-changing.

“I guess I’m hopeful, maybe I’m hopeful more than I should be because it’s touched our family so deeply and personally,” said Kerpan.

The changes include a three-day vehicle seizure for drivers who are caught for the first time with a blood alcohol content between .04 and .08.

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The new law also extends mandatory ignition interlock for repeat drunk drivers and applies it to those who refuse to provide a breath sample.

“It’s a bit of a shame factor, you know, with this three-day vehicle impoundment. If someone comes home and they’ve lost the car for three days, I mean that goes a long way, I think, in terms of getting people to start really thinking about it,” said Kerpan.

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

Kerpan said the problem tends to be worse in rural Saskatchewan, where it’s still socially acceptable to drink and drive.

He noticed it himself at a recent Christmas event where people were drinking and planned to drive home.

“They know what happened to our family. They’re our friends. They’re not bad people. They just have this mindset that ‘I’m only going a couple of miles, it’s OK,”‘ he said.

“You know, until that changes, nothing will change, I’m afraid.”

READ MORE: Drunk driving charges are the highest in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan has a drunk driving problem.

Statistics Canada says Saskatchewan had the highest rate of police-reported impaired driving among all the provinces in 2015.

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There were 575 incidents per 100,000 people in Saskatchewan – nearly twice as high as Alberta’s 314 per 100,000, the province with the second-highest rate.

The national rate was 201 incidents per 100,000.

READ MORE: Over 275 impaired driving charges in Saskatchewan during November blitz

Justice Minister Gord Wyant said impounding vehicles has helped in other provinces and he hopes to see that work in Saskatchewan too.

“The chances of losing your vehicle, I think, will be a significant incentive for a lot of people to have a second thought before they get behind the wheel,” he said.

The legislative changes in Saskatchewan were announced in October after another grim year on the roads.

It started in January when Jordan Van de Vorst, his wife Chanda, their five-year-old daughter Kamryn and her two-year-old brother Miguire were killed by a drunk driver in Saskatoon.

READ MORE: Saskatoon family reeling after fatal crash claims four lives

In August, deputy premier Don McMorris was charged with drunk driving after he was stopped by police on the Trans-Canada Highway near Regina.

He pleaded guilty to having a blood-alcohol level over .08, was fined $1,820 and lost his licence for a year. McMorris resigned from cabinet and left the government caucus.

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READ MORE: Saskatchewan family shared personal tragedy with Don McMorris before DUI

Wyant says the legislative changes don’t replace the need for more education.

“We can change all the rules we want, but there’s a culture in this province when it comes to drinking and driving and that’s what we have to get to,” said Wyant.

Kerpan said he’d also like to see Saskatchewan adopt the British Columbia model, where police can seize someone’s licence for 90 days and their vehicle will be impounded for 30 days if their blood alcohol level is more than .08 or if they refuse to provide a breath sample.

The rate of death by drunk drivers in B.C. has been cut in half since 2010.

“At the end of the day, it’s partly the law that has to change, which we’re seeing, but it also is a social mindset amongst people that has to change and I think that starts by making the rules tougher,” said Kerpan.

“Until we get to the point where it’s legally and socially unacceptable to drink and drive at all, period, we won’t see that great success. Will we ever stop drinking and driving? No, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, that’s pie in the sky, in my opinion. But as long as we start to see the trend go in the right direction, then I think we’re making some real strong progress.”

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