Drunk driving risk increases over the holidays

The safest number of drinks before driving is zero

Jens Nielsen | Driving With Jens

The holiday season is now in full swing. This means lots of social gatherings, work parties and meeting friends for Christmas drinks.

The temptation to indulge in alcoholic beverages while out is likely higher at this time of year than any other. Impaired driving is a serious issue and one that can easily be overlooked when you get caught up in holiday festivities.

Impaired driving is a criminal offence defined as the operating or having care or control of a motor vehicle while your ability to operate the motor vehicle is impaired by alcohol or drugs.

There is also a related offence of driving with a blood alcohol level that exceeds 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, often described as “point zero eight.”

One of the first reported cases of drunk driving in Canada goes back to 1920 in Alberta, where a court of appeal found that driving while intoxicated was indeed unlawful and could support a conviction of manslaughter.

Through the next 50 years or so the offence changed from just driving while intoxicated to include being in care or control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated. The penalties changed from seven days in jail for a first offence to the much the more severe penalties we see today.

Tests for impaired driving normally consisted of some sort of roadside physical test. These type of tests include walking a straight line and touching your nose. The courts at the time seemed to view intoxication to mean substantial inebriation, and more than just being under the influence of alcohol. This is not the case today.

The breathalyzer was first implemented in 1952 but only started being used on a mass scale in the 1960s. At that time the test was mostly voluntary and was only used to support other evidence.

In wasn’t until 1969 that driving with a blood alcohol level exceeding 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood was made an offence on its own. The penalty became the same as driving while impaired in 1976. Both offences are now part of the Criminal Code of Canada.

If police have reasonable grounds to think that you are driving while impaired they can demand you submit a breath sample. Failure to submit a sample is also an offence that carries similar penalties to impaired driving.

It’s important to understand that police are doing their jobs to help keep everyone safe. The same officer checking you for impaired driving may have also previously attended the scene of a crash with serious injuries or death caused by impaired driving.

Penalties for impaired driving can consist of fines, loss of driving privileges and/or the seizure of your vehicle. This could affect your job and your ability to support yourself or your family. There is also a social stigma that comes with impaired driving charges today.

There are many alternatives to getting into your vehicle and driving after you have been drinking. You can take a bus, taxi or ask friends and family for a ride.

Have the discussion with your family and friends about drinking and driving. Make an agreement to support one another without judgement. Let family and friends know that they can call you for a ride when one is not available, regardless of the time.

Young drivers may be the most vulnerable. Inexperience with drinking and inexperience with driving is a horrible combination. It’s important that you talk with your children about impaired driving.

Two local high school students have created some very powerful anti-drinking and driving messages. Both of these films are on YouTube: “Bad Friends” by Skyler Isaac from FH Collins Secondary School and “I’ll be Fine” by Marcus Cammidge from Porter Creek Secondary School.

Watching these as a family and openly discussing the possible consequences of impaired driving may help bring everyone home safe.

Every year the police conduct roadside stops during the holidays to check for impaired drivers. Every year it’s widely publicized that these stops will occur and yet every year many drivers are caught driving while impaired.

If you’ve consumed any alcoholic beverages, in that moment of truth when you’re standing there considering how you will get home, please think of the consequences of impaired driving and don’t get behind wheel.

The safest number of drinks before driving is zero.

Catch Driving with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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