Canadians love to brag about the many ways in which our country is extraordinary, or at least above average. But in one area, we are a leader for all the wrong reasons.
A 2016 study by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC) looked at the percentage of road deaths caused by impaired driving in wealthy nations. Canada came out with the highest percentage, 34 per cent of all fatal crashes involving alcohol or drugs.
The next-highest were the United States and New Zealand, at 31 per cent, while at the very bottom of the list were Sweden and the Netherlands, with just 19 per cent of road fatalities linked to drugs and alcohol.
The number of fatalities overall, fortunately, has dropped sharply in Canada from the year 2000. A full 43 per cent fewer people were dying on our roads in 2013 than in 2000, although that may have something to do with better technology in our vehicles, such as crumple zones and air bags.
Canadians are renowned for being rule-following and law abiding, yet we can’t seem to stop drinking before operating motor vehicles – and that includes boats and snowmobiles as well.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, educators, and surviving family members of impaired driving victims have done much to push back against the culture of having a few drinks and then getting behind the wheel. Decades ago, this was considered entirely normal behaviour. Now, many people have absorbed the ideas of a designated driver, or getting a cab or transit ride home.
But it hasn’t sunk in everywhere. This is a cultural problem as much as a legal one. Until all Canadians acknowledge that any amount of alcohol is too much before driving, we’ll see more crashes, more injuries, more deaths.