The holidays always bring some reoccurring themes: family connection, gifting to one another and a message from law enforcement on not drinking and driving. This messaging comes in the form of Reducing Impaired Drivers Everywhere (RIDE) here in Ontario. Law enforcement is given extra funding from the Government of Ontario to focus on this specific issue heading into December and the holidays. Unfortunately, every year people drive under the influence and end up killing or injuring thousands of people a year. While there has been a significant decline in impaired driving since this first became a societal issue; there is still more work to do.
In Canada, 2,430 people were involved in motor vehicle collisions that result in their death (driver, passenger, pedestrian, etc.) of which 1,451 were influenced by alcohol, narcotics or both [2013 statistics] (1).
The traditional thought processes of political activists; support groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and politicians have been to strengthen the existing laws to reduce the allowable limit of alcohol in a person’s body. Changing rules regarding operating and handling of vehicles among other pushes in the criminalization realm. Individuals face jail time and other monetary fines for impaired operation of a motor vehicle. In my perception, we are going to eventually get to a point where we can no longer reduce impaired operation of a motor vehicle (barring technological changes like autonomous vehicles) because people will fall into two groups. Group A will be people who went out for a night and felt that they were okay to operate their vehicle. Group B is the ones who simply do not care; and will drive their vehicle repeatedly under the influence. Group A is individuals who can be influenced to make changes and made an error in judgment. This article is targeted at Group B; because the current system of deterrence does not effectively change their minds from the act.
My proposal to reduce individuals inside of Group B would be free taxi service paid for by the government to eliminate the need for these people to need to drive. It can be cost-effective to government coffers and more importantly socially responsible to the rest of the public. Essentially; the government would provide habitual offenders with a debit card that could only be used for transportation purchases to get people from point A to point B within the province of Ontario. It would have the goal of eliminating impaired driving by these individuals by eliminating their need to drive. Reduce the negative societal impacts associated with impaired driving; such as fatalities, injuries and emotional trauma. A secondary impact of this program would be the reduction in costs to emergency services, healthcare, and reduced insurance claims. A reduction in impaired driving by alcohol (potentially marihuana) will be an incredibly important investment and long-term save lives and money.
(Example) If in Ontario we have 1000 people a week that drive impaired; this program would be targeted at the minority who have previous impaired charges on their record. The program would be tailored to the 50 or 100 people who are habitual offenders. A program client would be permitted to $150 a day maximum of taxi rides within the Province of Ontario. This number could be adapted to rural settings where rides may be longer or the costs in these areas are higher. The costing for the program clientele would mean a daily cost of $7,500 to $15,000 if fully charged by the users. An annual cost of $2,520,000 to $5,040,000 plus the associated costs associated with running the program (overhead, management, logistics, etc.). While these numbers seem high, there are costs associated with the criminalization of these individuals as well. In 1994, the Government of Ontario determined the costs associated with a motor vehicle fatality was $5.3 million dollars for emergency services, healthcare, and other costs factored in. This does not include the costs of the emotional trauma that people are required to go through when dealing with these incidents. Emotional trauma for individuals injured; emergency services and families all of which currently cause tremendous issues for our society as a whole. The cost determined by the government in 1994 works out to just north of $8 million dollars (2017). Providing this program to repeat offenders alone allows for a savings of $3 to 6 million dollars per accident. Correctional Service Canada pegs the cost of holding an offender for a year at $116,000; which is significantly more than running the program. One of the known downsides associated with criminalization and incarceration is that individuals tend to become better criminals. They learn from the processes how they were caught and from other inmates how to avoid their downfalls. The last thing we want is people who are driving impaired becoming better at beating the system and avoiding getting caught.
A program like this would likely be initially plagued by the determining factors for categorizing these individuals as habitual or not. There are medical decisions which can be determined by extensive medical research and policy decisions. This program could be fraught with the thought of pandering to individuals when hardcore criminalization is thought to be the answer. One has to simply attend provincial offenses court to see how many individuals have been charged with highway traffic act offenses; such as operating a motor vehicle with no insurance and suspended license caused by previous impaired operation charges to see that the deterrence factor does not work on certain people. These people are the ones maiming and killing people on the roads which is why we need a second diversion to stop impaired driving before it happens. As I said before, I do not believe that impaired operation of a motor vehicle (barring technological changes) will ever end. Even then it will still likely occur as we can never eliminate something entirely from society. Humans are notorious for errors and misjudging their abilities, and this is worse under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, but these people can be deterred from future issues. There is a group of habitual offenders that disregard all forms of deterrence and conduct themselves as they please. These are the ones who are the focus of this piece and the policy changes to medicalizing the issue.
While not perfect; we need to look at other means of making our communities and roads safe. This is just one option for consideration.