British Columbia

Impaired driving in B.C. is still a deadly problem despite more deterrents than ever

According to ICBC stats, there hasn't been a meaningful reduction in deaths caused by impaired driving since immediate roadside prohibitions were made law in 2011.

Advocates, officers worried laws and technology not keeping up with drug-impaired driving

RCMP officers conduct a impaired driving check stop in Coquitlam in June 2014. (CBC)

Jeremy Cook is asking you not to drive impaired this holiday season.

The 22-year-old Nanaimo man was in a car that was struck by a drunk driver in 2013, when he was just about to turn 16. His life has not been the same since.

"I've had to relearn how to walk and everything," he said about his injuries, which included broken bones, eye damage and a traumatic brain injury.

He was in a car with four other people on their way home from a concert when another vehicle T-boned them.

Cook said that car was going 97 km/h in a 50 km/h zone. Even though Cook said the driver was convicted on charges of impaired driving and sentenced to jail time, he doesn't feel justice was served.

"This isn't fair. I'm going to have to live with disabilities my whole life," he said.

In October, Cook lent his story to an anti-impaired driving campaign with Mothers Against Drink Driving (MADD) Canada. He hopes that sharing his personal story will reduce injuries and deaths from impaired driving

But according to ICBC stats, there hasn't been a meaningful reduction in deaths caused by impaired driving since immediate roadside prohibitions (IRP) were made law in 2011.

Jeremy Cook, second from left, participates in the launch of a MADD Canada anti-impaired driving campaign in October 2019. (MADD Canada/Twitter)

IRP allows police to confiscate your licence for at least 24 hours on the spot if there are reasonable grounds to believe that your driving ability is affected by alcohol or drugs. There can be a further three-, seven-, 30- or 90-day prohibition for alcohol-impaired drivers under B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Act.

On average between 2014 and 2018, in B.C. there have been 68 deaths each year from crashes where impairment by alcohol, drugs or medication were contributing factors, according to ICBC, with the annual figure ranging between 60 and 72.

There is hope that new powers transferred to police in December 2018 will help act as a greater deterrent and bring these numbers down.

For the past year, police have had the power to demand a breathalyzer test from any driver pulled over for violating traffic laws or at a check stop. Under the old law, officers had to have reasonable suspicion a driver had alcohol in their body to demand a breathalyzer test.

But the effect of the new law is still unclear, as statistics for 2019 have not yet been released

Cannabis conundrum

There are also concerns from advocates and police about the danger that cannabis-impaired driving is having on roads since the drug was legalized in October 2018.

"We really don't have a handle on how big or how small this problem is within the province," said Neil Dubord, chief of the Delta Police Department and chair of the traffic safety committee with the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.

Police don't yet have a reliable and easy-to-use breathalyzer-type device to check for drugged driving like they do for alcohol.

They have to rely on a standard field sobriety test where officers check three behaviours or bring in a colleague who has done more intensive drug-recognition-expert training.

Dubord says that until the technology catches up, enforcing cannabis-impaired driving is tricky.

"We're still learning how to effectively manage it on roadside," he said.

MADD wants longer prohibition for drug-impaired drivers like there are for alcohol. It also wants the province to put in place a zero-tolerance for alcohol and drugs for any driver 21 or under or those with five years or less of driving experience.

In the meantime both police and advocates encourage people to think ahead and plan their journey home if they intend to drink or use drugs.

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