MANITOULIN – The number of impaired driving charges laid by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in the Manitoulin-Espanola detachment area have increased by roughly 60 percent over the period of 2015 to 2019, rising steadily from 36 in 2015 to 60 in 2019, with the exception of a slight decrease in 2016. This is in line with national trends: an October 2020 report by Statistics Canada noted the largest increase in police-reported impaired driving in over three decades, while drug impaired driving was up for the sixth year in a row.
Nationally, police reported 85,673 impaired driving incidents in 2019, an increase of more than 500 percent over 2018 when 14,841 incidents were reported. The majority of police-reported impaired driving incidents continued to involve alcohol, with eight percent involving drugs. There were 6,453 drug-related impaired driving offences in 2019 compared to 2,009 in 2018.
Increases in impaired driving offences, particularly drug-impaired driving offences, may be due in part to several contributing factors, these include greater legislative powers by police to conduct drug and alcohol screen tests and more police officers trained to detect impaired driving through standardized field sobriety tests. In addition to more drug recognition experts there are also more oral fluid screening devices to detect drug impairment.
Local data does not differentiate between impaired by drug or alcohol, said Marie Ford, community services officer with the Manitoulin OPP. “Impaired driving is impaired driving and the penalties do not differentiate between the two. We do have the tools to investigate impaired by drug drivers. Drug recognition offices are highly trained officers specific to the focus of investigating an impaired by drug offence. They conduct tests which allow them to differentiate an alcohol impaired driver from a drug impaired driver.”
The consequences of impaired driving are far reaching, Constable Ford continued. “There is the financial component of paying for the tow truck, the fines imposed by the court, higher insurance rates, reinstatement fees, ignition interlock, a criminal record. Potentially the most horrific consequence is the injury or death that may result from an impaired driving crash. Civil liability, not to mention the guilt one would endure if they injured someone because of the senseless and avoidable act of impaired driving.”
Janet Thomson wants to see zero tolerance for alcohol in drivers. She’s the founder of the advocacy group Enough Ontario. She’s also an impaired driving survivor. She was hit 15 years ago in a head-on collision. The driver was sentenced to 45 days in jail, served on weekends because he had to work to support his children.
“What about my two sons?” she asked. “I was a single mom and I was robbed of my motherhood. My youngest boy was 12 years old. He was really traumatized by it and asked me to promise to never drive again. I couldn’t take care of my kids. I wasn’t finished being a mom.”
Your life changes in an instant, she added. “I was robbed of my career. I was in pain. I was miserable. I felt so broken, and it was such a long journey from victim to survivor to driver. I had to testify against the driver, give a victim impact statement. I have to get nerve blocks and steroid epidurals and take medication. I got the life sentence. There’s no justice in that.”
People aren’t afraid to drive impaired, she said. “It’s not from a lack of education or awareness: people know better but they don’t do better.”
Another report by Statistics Canada released in January revealed that impaired driving/operating while impaired charges were actually down nationally by 11.1 percent for the period March 2020 to October 2020 over the same period in 2019, from 47,159 in 2019 to 41,926 in 2020. Impaired driving causing death or bodily harm incidents decreased from 435 in 2019 to 332 in 2020, a decrease in 23.7 percent. There was an initial increase in impaired driving incidences that peaked in July/August 2020 but decreased between August and October 2020.
Impaired driving is a crime, said Constable Ford. “The OPP strongly advise anyone who knows someone is driving while impaired or is about to drive while impaired to call 9-1-1 and report it. If someone is hesitant or concerned that their name is used as a complainant, they can by all means go through Crime Stoppers to report.”