February 6, 2020
A Sudbury woman who lost her brother to a drunk driver says she’s looking forward to the day technology will be installed in vehicles to prevent impaired driving.
“The hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries caused by alcohol and/or drug-related crashes each year are 100 per cent preventable,” Jaymie-Lyne Hancock, the new national president of MADD Canada, said in a release. “We would like to see 100 per cent support for the technology that can stop these terrible tragedies.”
In 2014, Hancock’s brother DJ was hit and killed by an impaired driver. Since then, Hancock has become a strong advocate in the anti-impaired driving movement and is now president of Canada’s best known anti-impaired driving organization.
MADD Canada said a recent survey shows more than three-quarters of Canadians favour the addition of testing technology in vehicles to prevent impaired driving, but Hancock said she is striving for 100 per cent support.
In a survey of 1,001 Canadians, conducted by Ipsos in late January, 785 (78 per cent) said they would be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ willing to have technology integrated into vehicles, at no cost to them, to prevent the engine from starting if the driver is impaired.
“If some people can’t make the responsible choice to not drive when they are impaired, their car will make it for them,” Hancock said. “I want to see a day when impairment-related crashes, like the one that killed my brother DJ, are eliminated.”
Andrew Murie, MADD Canada’s chief executive officer, said Canada has not seen a large sustained reduction in impairment-related crash deaths in more than a decade.
“This technology will end impaired driving,” Murie said. “The current level of support is high, but as this technology comes available over the next few years, we would like it to have the backing of all Canadians.”
The development of in-vehicle technologies to detect alcohol has been underway for several years. The various systems being explored include breath-based testing to measure a driver’s exhaled breath for ethanol alcohol levels; and touch-based measurement of ethanol levels in skin tissue using infrared light.
In both systems, if the tests detect a pre-determined level of alcohol in the driver, the car will not start.
There is also development happening with computer vision algorithms that track the visual attributes of the driver to detect drowsiness that may also be adaptable for signs of impairment.
Similar technology to detect cannabis is also on the horizon, MADD Canada said. Roadside oral fluid screening tests for cannabis are already in use by police, and entrepreneurs and researchers are looking at additional technologies, including some of the breath and vision-based detection measures, that could be adapted for in-vehicle use.
“These technologies will be invisible to drivers,” Murie said. “Accuracy is key of course, but these systems also need to be completely seamless. They have to be unobtrusive and fast. Sober drivers must be able to get in and start their car with no delay.”
Gathering support for in-vehicle technology that can end impaired driving is an important goal for Hancock, who started her two-year term as national president in January.
On Aug. 21, 2014, DJ Hancock, 18, was hit head-on by an impaired driver after leaving the T.M. Davies Community Centre in Lively where he had tried out for a Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League team, the former Sudbury Nickel Barons.
His and Jaymie’s parents, Dean and Kim, had been at the tryout and were on the road just a few minutes behind DJ. They came upon the crash scene and found their son pinned inside his car. He died an hour later, still inside his vehicle.
The other driver, Walter Carter of Lively, had been drinking and had three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood at the time of the crash. He wasn’t even supposed to be driving; he had been charged with drunk driving earlier in the year and had his licence taken away until that charge was resolved.
Carter eventually pleaded guilty to several charges related to DJ’s death, including impaired driving causing death, and was sentenced to five years in jail.
Jaymie was at home when the first call came. She vividly remembers the frantic follow-up calls, the uncertainty about whether she should be going to the crash site or the hospital, and the dread about what news the next call might, and did in fact, bring.
Hancock, a registered nurse who works in obstetrics in Sudbury, has become active in the anti-impaired driving movement, speaking at conferences, safe grad events and schools to talk about the importance of impaired driving prevention.
She and her parents have shared their story as part of MADD Canada’s School Assembly Program for students and as part of the Project Red Ribbon holiday awareness campaign.
Another key area of focus for Ms. Hancock throughout her term will be to bring the sober driving message to more Canadians, and particularly youth, via social media.
“I look forward to opening up the conversation about impaired driving, and engaging new supporters, new groups, new communities online to join us in fighting this entirely preventable crime,” she said.
Murie praised Hancock for her efforts to combat impaired driving.
“MADD Canada’s national president plays a tremendous role in advancing awareness and policy initiatives, promoting education, representing volunteers and members, and, most importantly, being a leading voice for victims of impaired driving across Canada,” he said.
“Jaymie’s drive, her youth and her passion for this cause will help us bring even more people to the team that is working to end impaired driving.”