Yukon drunk drivers see double

Drunk-driving offences in the Yukon are more than double those in Alberta or BC, according to a 2006 Statistics Canada report.

Drunk-driving offences in the Yukon are more than double those in Alberta or BC, according to a 2006 Statistics Canada report.

To combat the problem the Yukon Liquor Corp. is issuing coasters to remind people to drink responsibly.

The coasters are free.

They can be picked up at the liquor store and from licensed establishments, according to an October government release.

The first coaster’s message was directed at all-terrain-vehicle operators.

A different seasonal message will be released every three to four months over the next year, said the release.

But it’s not a lack of coasters causing the Yukon’s high number of drunk-driving offences.

“Traditionally, even though there’s far less population up in the Yukon, there’s always been a significant difference,” said Louise Knox, chapter services manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in the Western region.

Mindset is a problem.

There’s still this primitive way of thinking in the North, said Knox.

“People believe it’s OK to drink and drive, and they’re not going to get caught or kill or injure anybody else.”

In 2005, half of the fatal collisions in the Yukon involved liquor, according to the government release.

“Traffic is a priority in our division,” said Sgt. John Sutherland in an e-mailed response to questions posed by the News regarding the high number of drunk-driving offences.

“And we will continue to look at various options to target criminal driving or high-risk driving behaviours,” he said.

“Traffic services and the general policing members have been conducting a number of different enforcement initiatives to reduce these causal factors.”

The distances between communities in the North adds to the problem, said Knox.

Some communities are dry or have no licensed establishments, she said.

“So people drive over to the next town to purchase their alcohol and drive back. And a lot of time it’s being consumed in the vehicle or they’re drinking a great deal and then driving a great distance to get home.”

In metropolitan areas, public transit helps counter this problem, said Knox.

When she learned the Whitehorse transit system shuts down at 6 p.m., Knox was shocked.

“Wow,” she said.

“Any option you can give a potential impaired driver is a bonus,” she added.

Another reason the Yukon might have such a high offence rate is it’s tougher to get caught, said Knox.

The RCMP is very short-staffed throughout Canada, she said.

“And they do the best with what they have. They could be tracking impaired drivers 24-7 but unfortunately there are other crimes that are going on as well.”

The chance of being caught in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary is higher, said Knox. “Because of the number of checkstops and the number of police that are available.”

Yukon Legal Services Society executive director Nils Clarke disagrees.

“When it comes to impaired driving, especially in the smaller communities, the likelihood of detection, arrest and ultimate conviction are logarithmically higher.” he said.

“Even Whitehorse, it’s a sufficiently small place, and if they’re known to have prior impaireds or known to be prohibited from driving, then there’s reasonable and probable cause to stop them.”

That’s not going to occur in the bigger communities in Alberta and BC, said Clarke.

“There, you at least have the potential for anonymity.”

RCMP checkstops aren’t the most important mitigating factor, said Knox.

“A lot of people place high importance on the checkstop itself. And although it’s highly visible and great from a public education standpoint, the main thing, regardless of where we live, is a change in attitude.”

But changing that attitude takes time, said Knox.

“It requires community involvement and it takes a personal commitment from someone to not drink and drive. It’s not just up to one person or one organization or the police — it starts with the individual.”

Drinking alcohol is a personal choice, she said.

“But if you decide to drink and drive it becomes a very public matter.”

Drunk driving is Canada’s No. 1 criminal cause of death, said Knox.

“All the tragedies, whether it’s an injury or a death, are needless. They’re preventable — impaired driving isn’t an accident.”