Number of impaired driving incidents part of ‘disappointing’ increase, police say

York Regional Police officers perform a RIDE spot check to combat impaired drivers.

York Regional Police officers perform a RIDE spot check to combat impaired drivers. More than 1,625 impaired driving charges were laid last year in York. (VINCE TALOTTA / TORONTO STAR file photo)

York Regional Police are calling 2016 one of the worst years they’ve seen recently for impaired driving deaths, after nine people were killed in drunk-driving incidents.

There were 1,265 total drunk-driving incidents in 2016, an increase of 10 over the previous year.

“It’s surprising and baffling, to be honest, especially when we had the tragedy that we did last year,” said Const. Laura Nicolle.

In September 2015, three children and their grandfather were killed in a crash with an SUV driven by a drunk driver in Vaughan.

Marco Muzzo, whose blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, pleaded guilty to impaired driving and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“You would think that seeing something like that, no one would ever make those same calls, but, unfortunately, that’s what we’re seeing this year,” Nicolle said.

More than 1,625 impaired driving charges were laid last year in York. This turns out to be down about 70 from 2015. But impaired driving charges climbed from about 1,240 in 2013 to 1,470 in 2014.

A Star data analysis previously showed that driving while intoxicated is an increasing problem in parts of the GTA.

Impaired driving charges are growing in some suburban areas, while rates are still higher, even in the regions where the number of charges are starting to drop.

In York, the charges in 2016 include 81 drug-impaired driving offences, an increase of 69 per cent over the previous year, for substances such as marijuana, cocaine, ketamine, fentanyl and prescription medications.

York police called the numbers “alarming” as they precede the pending legalization of marijuana.

Of the drivers arrested in 2016, 85 per cent were men and 15 per cent were women, according to York police.

About half of the men arrested were between 22-34 years old while nearly 50 per cent of women were 26-45.

Police say there was also an increase in the number of people charged who had been drinking at a private residence, not a bar or club.

In an effort to expand the enforcement capabilities of police officers, Canada could be on the way to allowing police to conduct random roadside breath tests.

Bill C-226, tabled early last year by Conservative MP and former Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, would allow police to demand that any driver provide a breath sample any time or anywhere, whether or not their vehicle is in motion.

The bill has passed second reading in the House of Commons and was referred to committee in June.

Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, said the bill, if passed, would change the issue “over night.”

“Any death is unacceptable,” Murie said. “Until the federal government gives police the ability to mandatorily screen anybody for alcohol and drugs anywhere, this issue will continue to be a problem and it’ll continue to cause fatalities. It will continue to cause great frustration for police.

Police across the country can currently demand a roadside breath sample if they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe the driver was drinking.

“The police are put in a very unfortunate position,” Murie said.

“It’s really like a police officer trying to do their job with one hand tied behind their back.

“They need to give the police the tools to do their job.”

Nicolle said police have attempted to combat the issue through various programs, including RIDE spot-checks and various education campaigns. One, the #ImTHATPerson campaign, puts the onus on those who witness someone drinking to call a taxi or offer them a place to stay overnight.

“Everybody is in those scenarios where you’re at lunch or dinner and you’re watching somebody consuming alcohol and you know that they’re driving,” she said.

“We’re just trying to remind people to take that step and say, ‘You’ve had quite a bit and we don’t think you should be driving.’ ”

York police recently introduced a video campaign which reminds people of the financial cost of getting caught drinking and driving and compares it to paying for a cab ride or the price of a hotel room.

“It’s very disappointing that we’re still seeing this kind of thing,” said Nicolle.

“I don’t know what it will take, but, obviously, we’re not going to give up.”

Source: The Toronto Star