Toronto police are issuing far fewer 90-day suspensions to drunk drivers than they did only a few years ago.
As recently as 2012, Toronto police suspended 2,406 licences for impaired driving. By last year, that had fallen to 1,370.
From 1999 to 2012, Toronto police issued an average of about 2,000 roadside suspensions a year to drunk drivers, but from 2014 to 2016, that fell to 1,370. That works out to about 12 fewer suspensions a week.
Is it because there are fewer drunk drivers to deal with? That would be a good news story, but no other police force in the region has found that that’s the case.
Halton police suspended drunk drivers in 2016 at the same rate that they did in 1999. York Region police suspended them at a slightly higher rate. None of the other five police forces in the region – Hamilton, Halton, Peel, York or Durham – has had a significant reduction since 1999.
Is it because the city’s roads are becoming safer? They haven’t, at least not in the period we’re looking at: Since 2005, Toronto has consistently seen about 10-12,000 collisions a year in which someone was hurt or killed.
Instead, it seems connected to a fall in ordinary traffic charges laid by the Toronto force.
Traffic charges laid by Toronto police started to fall steadily starting in 2013, and are now about half the level they were in 2011, provincial statistics show.
VIDEO: Toronto Police issue fewer tickets, find fewer drunk drivers
The drop is seen in many common safety-related tickets. By 2016, charges in Toronto for speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, speeding and disregarding signs were all at roughly half the levels they were at in 2011.
What drives that fall? It depends who you ask.
The sharp drop in traffic tickets starting in 2013 left a $30 million hole in the city’s budget, an amount that was roughly equivalent to city cuts to the police budget that year. City Councillor Michael Thompson, who was vice-chair of the police services board at the time, sees it as “a cause and effect relationship.”
“There has been a major reduction, and that does have a major impact on the city’s budget. The question is why.”
“I know in 2013 this was a major issue. I made comments then, and I still believe in the comments I made then, that are relevant today, which was that maybe it’s a work-to-rule.”
“I don’t think there’s any one thing that can be pointed to as the reason for those numbers dropping,” says Toronto police spokesperson Const. Clint Stibbe.
“We’ve moved from more of a quantity to a quality model, where we’re looking for the more serious offenders and not just the ones that are committing small offences.”
Impaired drivers are generally caught by their erratic driving being seen by a witness or a police officer, or in the aftermath of an accident, Stibbe says. Picking up impaired drivers in the course of other traffic enforcement is less common.
LISTEN: Toronto police union president Mike McCormack on AM640
Toronto police union president Mike McCormack points to falling numbers of police officers – Toronto had 5,318 in 2013 and 4,750 now, according to numbers supplied by the union.
“It has nothing to do with the roads being safer,” McCormack says. “And in no way is Toronto unique in that there are less drunk drivers.”
The numbers suggest that, as police pull fewer drivers over, they’re less likely to find things – like impairment, or the fact that a driver’s licence is suspended – that an officer might only find out about after a car is stopped. In other words, as they stop fewer drivers for offences like speeding, they’re finding fewer drunk drivers as an indirect consequence.
Charges for driving with a suspended licence – or driving with no licence at all – have also fallen sharply in Toronto, but stayed steady or increased in the other five forces we looked at:
Global News obtained license suspension statistics from the Ministry of Transportation, and Highway Traffic Act charge statistics from the Ministry of the Attorney-General.