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EDITORIAL: Drastic changes needed

A P.E.I. woman is prohibited from driving for a year after she hit a light pole while driving drunk.
A P.E.I. woman is prohibited from driving for a year after she hit a light pole while driving drunk. - 123RF Stock Photo

Given our small population compared to other provinces, P.E.I. is in a better position to make bold changes and take a leadership role on policy matters.

We did it with the single-use plastic bag ban. Now, P.E.I.’s political and community leaders need to come together and tackle the alarming number of impaired driving incidents.

Based on numbers recently released by Statistics Canada, last year 288 impaired driving charges were laid in P.E.I. compared to 280 in 2017.

In the past five years, the number of people charged each year with impaired driving has hovered between 279 and 288 with a peak of 304 in 2016.

In fact, over that same five-year period, police have laid a total of 1,440 impaired driving charges.

The positive news is that the number of suspected drunk driving incidents reported to police increased by 47 per cent compared to 2017.

So, Islanders are fed up with drunk driving on our roads and are stepping up to try and do something about it.

But the numbers only tell one side of the story. Recent headlines in The Guardian shed more light on the issue: Woman who drove drunk with child jailed; Drunk driver who rolled vehicle jailed; Drunk driver who hit pole jailed; Man caught driving drunk following prom party and; Woman gets jail time for hitting Montague house while driving drunk.

In January, Stephen Michael Quinn of Cornwall also received five years in jail for the tragic drunk driving incident that caused the death of Melissa Ann Palmer in 2018.

And the list goes on and on.

These incidents have some things in common — they’re senseless, they’re stupid and they shouldn’t have happened.

The province already has tough drunk driving laws, including mandatory jail for first-time offenders, interlock ignition for a minimum of one year, vehicle impoundment and driving bans.

If an offender gets caught again, the punishments increase.

Even so, Island drivers are still making bad choices and getting behind the wheel drunk, and in 32 cases, stoned.

Tougher laws and public education don’t necessarily deter people from driving drunk since no one plans on getting caught in the first place.

That’s especially the case with habitual drunk drivers who know which back roads to take to avoid police.

Clearly, public education — especially in schools — needs to improve to get the message through and stop someone from drunk driving the first time.

With a new elected provincial government, there may be no better time to look at changes.

One change to look at is installing interlock ignition for all vehicles, not just those belonging to people who have been caught drunk driving.

It’s a preemptive measure, and one that car manufacturers and consumers won’t like due to the additional cost, but it’s the surest way to deal with the issue.

Drunk driving on P.E.I. isn’t a new story. But it’s a story that can and needs to change.

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