In the words of one expert, Canada has the ‘dumbest impaired-driving laws on the face of the planet.’ The federal government should waste no more time, or lives, before acting.

Photo of several police officers stopping cars one after the other.

A federal committee is scheduled to review breathalyser legislation this fall. Change is long overdue. (CARLOS OSORIO / TORONTO STAR)

The sorry fact that Canada ranks highest among wealthy countries for road deaths related to impaired driving created headlines this month, but it comes as no surprise to advocates for safer streets.

As the Star’s Jim Coyle reported, the recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control analyzed international data for 19 high-income countries and found that Canada topped the list for drunk-driving deaths, with alcohol impairment in 34 per cent of its motor fatalities.

The United States came second, followed by New Zealand, Australia and Slovenia, which all had roughly 31 per cent — still far above the average rate of 19 per cent. Israel had the lowest rate, at 3.2 per cent.

Robert Solomon, national legal director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a Western University law professor, told Coyle that Canada’s dubious distinction is the result of “the dumbest impaired-driving laws on the face of the planet.” Simply put, he’s correct.

Solomon, his colleagues at MADD and other anti-impaired-driving advocates have demanded better legal protections for decades. Provincial rules, including graduated licensing for young drivers, have improved safety. But federal laws remain far too lax despite proof that deliberate changes — like mandatory roadside breath screening by police — can save thousands from death and injury.

A federal committee is scheduled to review breathalyser legislation this fall. Change is long overdue.

The American study should — finally — spur Canadian parliamentarians to rewrite the existing laws to, among other things, mandate police to make year-round random breath checks.

Current rules require police have “reasonable grounds” to do breathalyzer tests. Studies have shown that police officers have a difficult time assessing drivers’ behaviour to decide whether they have the legal grounds to administer the tests. It’s not unusual to see impaired charges dropped in court if proper procedure isn’t followed.

Clearly, the status quo in Canada is unacceptable. As Solomon said, every jurisdiction that has introduced so-called mandatory screening has seen a significant drop in deaths and injuries. It is the “single most effective impaired-driving countermeasure.”

While previous federal changes have focused on how drunk-driving offences are prosecuted, studies have shown that many Canadians continue to drink and drive believing there’s little chance they’ll be caught.

Many who avoid drinking and driving during the traditional police RIDE program seasons, like Christmas holidays or long weekends, are willing to take their chances during the rest of the calendar year. It’s an unconscionable risk that leads to the impaired-driving deaths of between 1,250 and 1,500 Canadians every year. Another 64,000 are injured.

The CDC report, called Vital Signs, analyzed data from the World Health Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Its findings are disturbing, even shocking, to those who believe the campaign against drunk driving has generally succeeded.

If it takes an American study to call attention to Canada’s problem, then let that international embarrassment lead to tougher federal laws that allow police to keep our streets safe. No more time, or lives, should be wasted.

Source: The Toronto Star