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Message is getting through

Posted on December 26, 2013 by Lethbridge Sun Times

The holiday season tends to be filled with parties, but it seems partiers are showing more responsibility, according to a new survey.

A new Road Safety Monitor poll conducted by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation found a sharp decline from 2007 to 2013 in the percentage of drivers who admitted to driving when they thought they were over the legal limit within the previous 12 months — a drop from 8.2 per cent to 4.8 per cent.

The public opinion poll conducted in October examined Canadians’ behaviours and actions in relation to drinking and driving, as well as trends. The survey was sponsored by Beer Canada, Toyota Canada Foundation and Aviva Canada.

Public awareness campaigns have sought to discourage drivers from getting behind the steering wheel when they have been drinking, and the poll results offer an encouraging sign that the message is getting through to an increasing number of drivers.

“The fact that fewer people report driving when they thought they were over the legal limit has helped to reduce the risk these drivers pose to themselves and others,” Dr. Ward Vanlaar, TIRF’s vice-president of research, said in a news release.

Steve Brown, a TIRF research associate, said unprecedented gains have been made over the past 25 years in reducing both the number of drinking drivers on the roads and the number of crashes involving drinking drivers.

Awareness programs undoubtedly have a lot to do with progress made in that area, as does the public’s changing attitude toward drinking and driving. Long gone are the days when drinking drivers were viewed much less harshly than is the case today. Survey results from 2013 indicate that 76.7 per cent of Canadians regard the issue of drinking and driving as a priority concern. 

As tolerance toward drunk drivers has dwindled over the decades, peer pressure has likely proven effective in keeping tipsy drivers from getting behind the wheel. The situation has also been helped by the justice system’s growing toughness on drunk drivers, and by the use of police checkstops to nab drivers who are over the legal blood-alcohol limit.

During the holiday season, local partygoers are helped by the Operation Red Nose program conducted by the University of Lethbridge Athletics Department, which provides rides home for partiers, along with someone to drive their vehicle home. Operating on a donation basis, the program is a fundraiser for U of L Athletics, but also provides a valuable community service that helps keep people from driving after they’ve been drinking.

It’s all working to reduce the number of drunk drivers on our roads, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The TIRF notes that in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 744 Canadians were killed in a traffic crash involving a drinking driver. While that’s down dramatically from 1995 when 1,296 Canadians died in such crashes, it’s still 744 too many.

Let’s hope the message will continue to get through to people, and the number of crashes involving impaired drivers will continue to decline.

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