The province's crackdown this fall on impaired driving won't get every drunk driver off Island roads, but it's a significant step in reducing the problem. And with other initiatives, such as continued public education, it hopefully will reshape attitudes toward the practice of drinking and driving.
During last month's session of the legislature, Transportation Minister Robert Vessey introduced amendments to the Highway Traffic Act that will impose stricter laws on anyone who drinks and drives. Among other things, the amendments provide for the mandatory use of ignition interlock devices for all offenders. Until now, the devices - which require a sober breath sample from the driver before the vehicle itself will start - haven't been mandatory for first-time offenders. According to Vessey, the device has been seen as effective for those who have participated voluntarily in the program. "The department has heard directly from participants that the interlock is the only thing keeping them from driving while impaired," he told the house session before it wrapped up for the fall.
That's convincing feedback, and it justifies the province's decision to make the devices mandatory for all offenders. A drunk person determined to drive may well succeed in finding a vehicle he or she can drive. But ignition interlock devices can't help but deter many others who simply need an impediment to getting behind the wheel. The device provides just that.
The province also has brought in new measures for seizing the vehicles of people convicted of impaired driving. Right now, depending on the situation, vehicles could be impounded for a maximum of 60 days with a two-year window on past convictions. As a result of this fall's amendments, those convicted of causing bodily harm or death from impaired driving will have their vehicle impounded for six months, and drivers convicted of any three Criminal Code offences within the last 10 years will also have their vehicle impounded for six months. Accompanying the impoundments are the towing and daily impound fees that will result in thousands of dollars in fines apart from any fines imposed by the court.
If Prince Edward Island's laws dealing with impaired driving were lacking in clout before, that's certainly not the case now. The amendments to the Highway Traffic Act are welcome changes in a province that's been grappling with the problem of impaired driving for some time, if the concerns expressed earlier this fall by police are any indication. According to a Guardian story published last month, Statistics Canada figures show that the number of guilty sentences for impaired driving in P.E.I. is slightly above or below 300 for the past six years. This accounts for almost a third of the province's total criminal convictions, and is almost twice the national rate. According to the P.E.I. RCMP, P.E.I has had the highest number of impaired driving charges per capita in the Atlantic region.
P.E.I.'s tougher enforcement - the mandatory ignition interlock devices, vehicle impoundments and heavy fines - won't eradicate the scourge of drunk driving. But it will certainly help deliver the message that drunk driving is a crime and that those caught doing it will be punished. That, along with continued public education, should make people think twice about getting behind the wheel after they've been drinking.