Column: View from the academy – A new perspective on impaired drivers

By Stephen Dafoe

I watched a woman drink an entire bottle of wine by herself Monday night. Drink after drink she consumed the alcohol until the bottle was empty. She was still standings, and although her words were not overly slurred or her stride too wobbly, there was a certain cockiness in her that wasn’t there when the bottle was still corked.

You’d expect that cockiness from someone who had too much to drink and too little respect for the cop asking the question, “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” I’m certain the police see it every day on the roads in this province, roads that claimed 505 lives last year and another 24,000 injuries. Investigating all of those collisions cost tax payers $1 billion last year in the Capital Region Alone. And while not all of those collisions were related to impaired drivers, it is a problem of great concern to police.

The lady I watched get slowly loaded Monday night did not drive home. She had a ride, and her 90-minute path to inebriation was part of an interesting Citizen’s Academy presentation on traffic crime by former Morinville RCMP member Sgt. Chris Narbonne who is now operating a traffic detail in Sherwood Park.

Narbonne wanted to point out that despite public and media criticism of the province’s changing the penalties for what previously would have been a 24 hour suspension, there is good reason to support the new measures. Contrary to popular belief, the government has not lowered the blood alcohol limit to .05. That has always been there for police, and if your blood alcohol registered between .05 and .08, you got a 24 hour suspension. What has changed is the penalty and the sliding scale that makes that penalty harsher the more someone is caught. Well…that’s what might change after the premier allows the hospitality industry have a say on the matter and to install breathalysers in their pubs and taverns. Who is going to calibrate those devices every two weeks, as the police must do, is an unknown commodity at this stage.

But back to our experiment in drinking. Prior to cracking the vino, the approximately five-foot-three woman blew a zero on the breathalyzer. Fifteen minutes after her first four-ounce glass of wine she was still blowing a zero on the device. Two glasses and another 15 minutes later and the petit test case registered .024, an amount that would allow her free rein behind the wheel on any given night. It was not until her third drink that she registered .051 – just enough for her vehicle and her licence to be seized for three days under the new rules, if it were a first offense.

But the experiment did not end there. At four drinks she still did not blow .08, the legal limit. Her fifth drink emptied the bottle, but blowing on the device registered .078 – sufficient to lose her licence and wheels for a few days, but insufficient for her to receive an impaired driving charge.

I truly believe anyone who would consume an entire bottle of wine and then get behind the wheel for a Sunday or Monday morning drive deserves what they get, but the sad reality is some 17-year-old kid on the way home from a hockey game is the one that always seems to get killed.

Watching a petite woman down an entire bottle of wine and then watching her blow under the legal limit has given me a deeper insight into why the new increased penalties are needed.

Over the past five years, 41,466 people have been convicted of impaired driving. Given a provincial conviction rate of 80 per cent, there were nearly 52,000 impaired charges laid over a five-year period in this province. How many drunk drivers were not stopped?

How many millions have we spent on education about the evils of drunk driving, and yet people still pop behind the wheel. Enforcement works, and whether we like giving the cop on the street the power to de-horse someone on the spot for up to 30 days for being between .05 and .08 – it will save more lives than all the fluffy-feel-good anti-drunk driving posters and campaigns our tax dollars can buy.


    • Your mileage may vary. The problem is even under the “legal” limit, the test volunteer would have been in no shape to drive. Yet people do every day in this province, frequently in and through this community.

  1. Wow, I didn’t think anyone could consume that and not be over .08. Great article and very informative.

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