Thunder Bay

'A long road' to addressing impaired driving in Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay police say addressing impaired driving in the Ontario city will take time and require working with other community agencies to address the problem's root causes.

City had a rate of 271 impaired driving charged per 100,000 population in 2020

Thunder Bay police say addressing impaired driving in the Ontario city will take time and need to involve other community agencies. (Christina Jung / CBC)

Thunder Bay police say addressing impaired driving in the city will take time and require working with other community agencies to address the problem's root causes.

According to a report presented to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board this week, the city saw a rate of 271 impaired driving charges per 100,000 population in 2020. The Ontario average is 104 impaired driving charges per 100,000 people.

The list presented to the board compared Thunder Bay to a selection of other Ontario cities, police community services Insp. Derek West said.

While the list isn't a definitive ranking of the Ontario cities with the highest rates of impaired driving charges in 2020, West said police research has shown Thunder Bay's rate would be among the highest in Ontario for the year.

And addressing the ongoing problem of impaired driving won't be an easy task, West said.

"I don't think it's going to be an immediate and easy fix. I think it's a bit of a long road, and it's going to take place over time."

West said about 40 per cent of the 2020 charges were due to people driving while impaired by drugs, while the remainder were alcohol related.

West said Thunder Bay, like many communities in Ontario, is seeing high addiction rates for both alcohol and drugs.

Police, he said, are working with other community agencies — for example, hospitals, mental health and addiction services, and the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy — to try to address the root causes of the problem.

But that doesn't entirely fall within the realm of policing, West said, as more services to help with addictions, detox, and mental health are needed in Thunder Bay.

'Don't drive impaired'

Still, West said, the core message is a simple one.

"Don't drive impaired, don't get behind the wheel," he said. "That's the very first thing to do."

Thunder Bay saw 271 impaired driving charges per 100,000 people in 2020. (Thunder Bay Police Service)

RIDE checks will continue, and West encouraged people to call in suspected impaired drivers if they see them on the road.

West said police have also invested in training for officers to help them spot impaired drivers.

"We added two more dry officers who could be called in to assess people for drugs and drug impaired driving," he said. "And we trained the frontline officers to be better prepared in detecting and understanding what that looks like.

"I feel that part of the reason that the numbers went up was due to that training and ability for the officers to do a better job and their enforcement duties."

The number of impaired driving charges Thunder Bay police have laid so far in 2021 wasn't available on Wednesday, but West said he expects them to be consistent with previous years.

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