Nova Scotia

Fatal crashes caused by impaired drivers jumped last year in Nova Scotia

2020 was a bad year on Nova Scotia's roads. There were 31 fatal collisions caused by impaired drivers on roads policed by RCMP in the province, a six-year high, according to data collected by the force.

'I can't believe in this day and age people will still get behind the wheel when they're drinking'

A car crash in Beaver Bank, N.S., in 2015 killed two people. The driver was impaired and later sentenced to prison. (Halifax RCMP)

Every time a man walks by wearing her son's cologne, Marion Goulding tenses up. In that moment, a good day goes bad. 

Her 21-year-old son Gregory died in October 2015 when the car he was a passenger in left the road, flipped about five times and landed in a ditch in Beaver Bank, N.S.

The car's driver was drunk. He had been Gregory's best friend since they were three years old.

Goulding had hoped in the years since her son's death, that the number of fatal crashes caused by impaired driving would have dropped off. 

They haven't.

Last year marked a six-year high for deadly car crashes caused by impaired drivers in areas of Nova Scotia policed by the RCMP, according to data collected by the force, which patrols many rural parts of the province along with several Halifax-area suburbs.

"That's sickening, it really is," said Goulding, "I can't believe in this day and age people will still get behind the wheel when they're drinking or have other substances in their bodies."  

Marion Goulding sits next to her son Gregory and her husband. (Submitted by Marion Goulding)

There were 31 fatal collisions caused by impaired drivers in 2020 in RCMP-patrolled areas, even though pandemic travel restrictions cut down on road traffic for part of the year. In 2019, there were 18 crashes, and the numbers hit a low of eight in 2018. 

In 50 per cent of the 2020 crashes the impaired driver ended up dying. 

Pandemic stress and boozy backyard parties may all have played a role in driving up those numbers, said Cpl. Mike Carter, with RCMP traffic services.

"With the bars closed, backyard drinking parties seemed to have increased, which may be a contributing factor," he said.

When bars are open police can focus their patrols in those areas and spot drinkers who might try to drive away.   

The pandemic changed all that.

"We're now targeting places of increased risk of consumption, or excessive consumption. But because a lot of these are coming from private functions or residences, the public's calls on 911 to report possible impaired drivers is critical to our success," said Carter.

Carter said it's much harder for police to patrol a large residential area looking for impaired drivers than it would be to focus on a community's downtown core. 

The RCMP say the uptick in impaired driving could be caused by a number of factors, including the pressure of the pandemic causing some people to drink more. (CBC)

Goulding's son Gregory died trying to get from the Halifax-area community of Beaver Bank to nearby Sackville. Gregory was out partying when his friend, Anthony Lloyd Cox, offered to drive him and some others home.

Cox admitted to drinking four beers and four shots of vodka before he got into the driver's seat, according to an agreed statement of facts later filed in court.

"What actually happened was the driver was showing off, he had a suspended licence at the time and he was going at least 55 kilometres over the speed limit. And the weather that night was iffy, it had rained and the road was wet," said Goulding. 

Her son was killed instantly when the car crashed. Another passenger, Danielle Hudson, also died, and another woman was injured. Cox later pleaded guilty to impaired driving charges and was sentenced to 4½ years in prison.

Gregory's death was a crushing loss for Goulding and her family. 

"It has changed my life drastically. My son lived at home, so I went from seeing him every single day to never seeing him again," said Goulding. "There's not a day goes by that he's not on my mind."

Anissa MacLeod is a member of MADD Halifax's regional board. (Submitted by Anissa MacLeod)

The Goulding family isn't alone, according to Anissa MacLeod, a member of MADD Halifax's regional board. 

"People often think it is never going to happen to them, but I can tell you, I have met with hundreds of victims who have lost a loved one to impaired driving. It is tragic, and it is 100 per cent preventable," said MacLeod. 

People struggling to deal with the pandemic should focus on looking after their mental health and seek out support, and not turn to unhealthy use of drugs and alcohol, said MacLeod. Seeking help could cut down on the spike in impaired driving. 

Public education from MADD and the police, along with more calls to 911 about suspected impaired driving, should help bring down the number of impaired drivers, according to Carter. 

RCMP say they rely on the public calling 911 to report anyone they believe may be driving impaired. (CBC)

For her part, Goulding wants tougher drunk driving laws that put offenders behind bars for longer. 

"Never get behind the wheel if you're drinking or have any other substance in your body, it can destroy families. It can actually destroy your own life, because you have to live with the fact that you've killed people or injured people," said Goulding.