In recent decades there has been a continual trend in both federal and Saskatchewan law – continuously getting tougher on drunk driving. But is there a point where you’ve reached the limit and there’s not much more you can do on that front?
Minister Responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave was asked that on July 9, the day he presented SGI Canada and SGI Auto Fund annual reports. The most significant number to come out of that was a 45 per cent reduction in fatalities in 2019, compared to 2018. He noted Saskatchewan has also seen its lowest number of impaired driving fatalities.
Hargrave said, “It's something that I have, and SGI has been working on very, very hard, over the last number of years, for sure. We've seen that dramatic effect on the lowest number of fatalities. We only had 21 fatalities last year; 21 fatalities is still 21 too many. That's a problem and that's one we're going to continue to work on.
“We did see through the pandemic and very unfortunately, the number of impaired driving offenses was still was still high, and so we know that there are people that were still out there driving drunk.
“I think what we have to work on is more of a problem with people that maybe have a drinking problem, and that they're still out there and they’re driving.
“We've seen a really a positive impact with the bars and their cooperation with the hotel association. We've really seen a real positive impact in communities, even in small rural communities, where they've taken the lead in making sure that there’s fewer people driving.”
Hargrave said SGI is pleased with that. He continued, “There's still there's still more way more work to do. We know that from the number of impaired driving charges that happened just over the last number of months. So we're looking at that as to what else we can do, and that we will be continuing our efforts to lower the number of accidents and lower the number of people driving while they're impaired.”
Is there more room on the penalty side, or on the treatment side?
Hargrave responded, “There's other things that we can do. That's why we're working on the education.
“We have this ‘SmartWheels bus’ now and we're going to kids. We're trying to get school kids from Grade 4 to Grade 6. We're showing them about impaired driving. We know that that they're growing up and we want to hit them (so) that when they're able to drive, they have a totally different thought process about getting behind the wheel after they've done drugs or alcohol.”
He added, “When I was growing up, it was seatbelts. I mean, we never wore seatbelts. And, you know, it was just unheard of. I stood next to my father as he was driving. I put my arm around his neck. It was kind of ridiculous.”
He said now his children and grandchildren scream at him if he hasn’t put his seatbelt on before sticking the key in the ignition.
“That's what happens when you get to that younger age of kids,” Hargrave said.
“We will make a long-term impact on those kids, and we'll see a strong difference. I mean, I'd like to say we'll do it tomorrow. But realistically, we'll see that difference come over time as we educate these young kids and make a difference in their lives, which will make a difference on our highways in the years to come.”