Impaired driving fatalities, injuries in province hit record low in 2019: SGI

The culture of impaired driving may finally be changing in Saskatchewan as the number of deaths and injuries in the province are at record lows, according to preliminary data released earlier this week from Saskatchewan Government Insurance.

SGI statistics show there were 21 deaths related to impaired driving last year in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Government Insurance says the province has added 120 traffic enforcement officers since 2014. (Submitted by RCMP)

More than 50 people typically die a year in Saskatchewan as a result of impaired driving crashes, on average, but the latest data suggests that culture of impaired driving may finally be changing as the number of deaths and injuries in the province reach record lows.

Preliminary numbers released on Wednesday by Saskatchewan Government Insurance indicate 21 people died in 2019 as a result of motor vehicle collisions involving impaired drivers, and there were 332 injuries resulting from impaired driving.

Both the number of deaths and injuries are record lows since SGI began compiling reliable data in 1988, according to a news release.

In the release, the previous low for impaired driving fatalities in a year was 39 in 2017, and the lowest number of impaired driving injuries was 360 in 2018.

"When we see the number of 21 [deaths] compared to what it used to be here in this province, it feels pretty good," Joe Hargrave, the Minister Responsible for SGI, said on Sunday during an interview on CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend.

"It feels like, yes, we're making a difference," he said.

Minister responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave says the culture of drinking and driving is changing in Saskatchewan. (CBC News)

Between 2009-18 the province averaged 54 impaired-driving related deaths and the annual average of injuries over that same period was 595, the release states.

Hargrave said a number of factors have contributed to the decrease in fatalities, but one main reason is a change in attitude toward drinking and driving in Saskatchewan.

"People are starting to change their culture, their minds," he said. "They're starting to think about it before they get behind the wheel, and after they've been drinking. So I feel very, very good about that."

Hargrave said effective awareness campaigns featuring real people, tougher legislation and the emergence of ride sharing options also have had a positive effect when it comes to people's decision to not get behind the wheel while impaired and educating the next generation of drivers.

The provincial Crown corporation, in conjunction with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, runs the SmartWheels elementary school program, which educates students in Grades 4 to 6 about the risks associated with alcohol, drug use and impaired driving.

"That education piece is what's going to change things in the future, down the road," Hargrave said.

Hargrave said he likens it to educating kids about seat belts years ago.

"I remember the day when we didn't wear seat belts in a car. I was a kid standing next to my dad and had my arm around him as we're driving down the highway. Now I get my grandkids in the car and even if I start the car and I haven't got my seatbelt on, they're screaming at me," he said. 

Education, awareness campaigns and the addition of ride sharing are factors in reducing the number of people dying by impaired driving. (Jonathan DuPaul/CBC)

The government has added 120 traffic enforcement positions since 2014. Hargrave said those officers are part of the solution when it comes to enforcing the rules because "it's not only impaired driving, but it's distracted driving."

He said police enforcement is a key component in keeping deaths and injuries down.

Hargrave said he hopes educating youth will lead to the need for fewer officers down the road.

"It's about changing that attitude in the culture, and by working with these young kids in Grade 4 to 6, those are the guys when they get up to be those teenagers [driving], they won't do it [drive while impaired]."

SGI said the impaired driving fatality data is considered preliminary, based on information available from police forces in Saskatchewan, and may be adjusted based on additional information from the Coroner's office or other sources.

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend