Many years ago when King Edward VIII visited the very depressed coal-mining districts in Britain, he cried out in despair that, “Something must be done.” That resonated with the public and led to major reforms. In a different context, that kind of protest should be applied to the continuing outrage of drunken drivers.
A good friend of this columnist was driving in British Columbia when a terribly drunk women, unhappy because she lost her job, ran headlong into his car. Consequently, he was in a coma for six days. Just this past summer there were two accidents on Highway 401 where impaired drivers, travelling on the wrong side of the road, hit cars and killed the occupants. Then last month an elderly man lost both legs as he was run over by an impaired driver. Those types of stories by no means are unique. Clearly, there have been innumerable, similar accidents in the current year.
What is disturbing is that nevertheless, politicians, law enforcement agencies, and the general public have not been effective in ending impaired driving. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that, “In government, in science, in industry, and in the arts, inaction and apathy are the most potent foes.”
There are many reasons for this continuing problem: primarily restrictive laws are too lenient. Obviously, much more needs to be done forthwith, by both governments, under Highway Safety Acts and under the Criminal Code of Canada. MADD Canada (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) have helped with media coverage, but legislative reinforcements are essential.
A campaign against drunken driving was followed by a decrease in those offences, but once a let-up ensued, there was a trend reversal. According to relevant evidence, one reason for this persistent tragedy is there has been only a minimal decline in alcohol consumption, good news for the producers, but hardly something that the rest of the population can greet with enthusiasm.
What must be done? Currently police have available machines to screen the breath of those suspected of being impaired. Drivers can be halted at the roadside, then police can impound the vehicle and take the driver to a police station. It should be noted that in the 1920s driving a Model T while intoxicated would lead to an immediate term in jail.
Now using designated drivers must be a more routine part of peoples’ lives. Quite simply, society’s attitude toward drinking and driving must be changed. Above all, however, tough enforcement requires a change in the law (in Sweden those charged with blood levels of alcohol far more rigorous than our standards can receive up to two years in jail).
While there have been several revisions in the laws regarding impaired driving, the amendments certainly have been insufficient. If the law specified that one conviction for impaired driving automatically mandated three months in jail, with no exceptions that would terrify drunk drivers, thereby ending the problem. Do we have the will to enact such hard-hitting punishment? If so, apathy then could be replaced by action.