Hamilton Spectator
December 23. 2016

In the war against impaired driving and its sometimes deadly consequences, there is good news and bad news as we go through the holiday season.

Fatalities from alcohol-related impaired driving have been declining — the good news.

However, “there’s been a rapid rise in drugs present for fatalities,” says MADD Canada CEO Andy Murie. “Drug-impaired fatalities now exceed alcohol fatalities by 25 per cent.”

While police are doing what they can with RIDE programs, there is no tool right now for them to test those suspected of being impaired by drugs, says Murie.

And while fatalities — and crashes — are up as a result of drug-impaired driving, arrests and charges from roadside and other stops are not, Murie adds.

“Ontario has one of the lowest alcohol rates for fatalities, but one of the highest for drugs. But to be honest, no province is doing well on (curbing) drug impaired driving.”

So Murie has a message for saving lives this holiday season.

“The best choice is to be free of drugs and alcohol when driving,” he says, adding, “the public can help — if you see someone not driving properly, call 911. You could be saving a life.”

Murie said in some areas of the country, like Nova Scotia, 70 to 80 per cent of impaired driving arrests originate from calls from the public to 911.

“I would imagine it (the 911 call-ins) works well here (in Ontario) too. We just don’t have the data.”

There will soon be improvements to the police’s ability to catch alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers, adds Murie.

In the next year or two, there will be mandatory screening whereby police “can test anyone anywhere, any time. Now, they need to know you’ve been drinking or using drugs, which is hard to tell in a few seconds of a road check.’

Murie says oral fluid testing is coming for roadside tests for drug impairment. This will involve a swab of the tongue that is put into a tester and can tell the officer right away which, if any, drugs are present in a driver’s system, he says.

“It’s used pretty extensively in Europe. Canada and the U.S. are always behind the times, compared to Europe and Australia.”

However, Murie calls the police RIDE program “a great deterrent’ to impaired driving and says without it, there would be a lot more impaired drivers on the road.

“The situation would be a lot worse and there’d be a lot more deaths and injuries.”

Locally, Hamilton police stopped 14,950 drivers during their holiday RIDE checks this month, but laid no impaired driving charges. The year-round RIDE checks stopped 215,000 drivers and charged 22 of them. In 2015, RIDE stopped 245,760 drivers and charged 39 of them.

However, in just one night this week — the early hours of Thursday — Hamilton police charged three drivers with impaired driving in separate collisions in the space of three hours. Two were single-vehicle crashes.

A fourth driver, involved in a single-vehicle collision that hit a hydro pole, was charged with careless driving and given a three-day licence suspension. The driver’s blood alcohol level was more than 50 milligrams but less than the 80 required for an impaired driving charge.