According to ICBC and the RCMP, drinking and driving remains the number-one criminal cause of death in Canada, killing an average of 116 British Columbians and injuring more than 3,100 more each year. Those are sobering statistics.
With December and the holiday season fast approaching, it's time we all take a look at our driving habits and think about planning for a safe ride home after our Christmas parties. RCMP, ICBC and municipal police forces are also sending out that message and are now armed with new enforcement tactics.
Last week the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General John van Dongen announced that new stealth, radio-equipped police lookouts paired with RCMP patrol cars across the province will be working together in an effort to catch more drinking drivers and unbelted vehicle occupants.
The impaired/intersection night-time seatbelt traffic enforcement project (INSTEP) will involve deploying officers at key times and locations, to observe drivers for signs of impaired driving and not wearing a seat belt. These officers will then radio other officers down the road to intercept targeted vehicles.
A similar approach has been utilized across Washington state and the campaign is paying off as more than 1,000 impaired, reckless, aggressive or unlicensed drivers were stopped by state police in May 2007 that helped push seat belt use to more than 96 per cent - one of the highest levels in the U.S.
RCMP E Division, which serves most of B.C., will use INSTEP to supplement existing approaches to drinking and driving, including the successful CounterAttack program, which is regularly used by the RCMP here on the Coast.
With the announcement of INSTEP come stiffer penalties, higher fines and other consequences introduced in recent years - things like roadside vehicle impoundment for drinking drivers, a user-pay rehabilitation program that applies to a range of drinking drivers, not just those with criminal convictions, and higher minimum fines and longer vehicle impoundments for driving while suspended or prohibited.
I applaud this new program announced by the province. It's long overdue. CounterAttack programs are effective, but I think they are simply not enough. Sadly, many of us seem to be forgetting that it's not OK to drink and drive. We head to the pub after work on a Friday, tip back a pint or two with the boys, and then drive home. We may not be totally blitzed, but we are probably impaired enough that an accident could happen.
Thankfully, during the five years I've been editor here, we have not had many fatal accidents involving alcohol, but why chance it? In December, or any month for that matter, let's all take a sober pause and plan for a safe drive home. If you drink, don't drive. Pretty simple, huh?