Toronto Star

Two ways to combat drinking and driving

- Norris McDonald

The police say statistics don’t lie and that the incidents of people driving drunk are about the same as in previous years. Could have fooled me. Three children and their grandfathe­r are dead after their van was hit by an SUV whose driver was arrested on suspicion of impaired driving. A woman was charged with impaired driving in Toronto after she drove her car into a hydro pole on the lakeshore, causing a blackout. Another woman was charged with DUI in Mississaug­a after her car hit a gas valve and set off some fireworks. And Christmas is coming. Last week, a dentist from Pembroke, Ont., was sent to jail for five years for a wreck in which, while driving drunk, she caused the death of another driver. It turned out that the other driver had also been drinking. Who are those people? Problem drinkers, for the most part. Some are people who abuse alcohol and some are alcoholic. There’s a fine line between the two, granted, but one group consciousl­y sets out to drink heavily and the other, once started, can’t stop.

That’s why I cringe every time I hear some cop talking about these people.

“I don’t know how anybody could get behind the wheel of a car after they’ve been drinking,” some public safety officer will say.

I have news: the reason they get behind the wheel of a car after they’ve been drinking is because they’re not thinking straight. It’s because they’re drunk.

But at some point, they’re sober and that’s when two things have to happen. The first is that the courts have to get tough with these offend- ers. Really tough, so that everybody hears about it. The second is that the campaigns to fight drunk driving have to change.

The story of the Pembroke dentist is interestin­g. A mother of two, she was a volunteer and fundraiser in the Ottawa Valley community. She also looked after people on welfare, either for free or a reduced rate, as well as other special needs people.

She stayed sober when out on bail but had 40 days tacked onto her sentence for violating her conditions. Seven months in (the case took three years to reach a conclusion), police caught her buying two bottles of liquor.

For anybody who knows anything about problem drinking, that is a clear signal she needed help. Most people, and alcoholics in particular, can’t just “swear off” the booze. Alcoholism is a mental and emotional problem that requires the sufferer to make significan­t changes to their behaviour and lifestyle. AA can be a good place to start.

The other thing that has to change is the focus of the anti-drinkingan­d-driving message.

“If you drink, don’t drive” doesn’t seem to be working as well anymore as a public-service slogan. A renewal of various campaigns along the lines of “Think Before You Drink” would be better.

I have friends who, if they are going out to a bar after work, will put their car keys into a desk drawer and lock it.

Yes, they can always return later to get them but since it would take a lot more effort to do that than to simply hail a cab, chances are they won’t drink and then drive later.

Others — and I do this myself — will book a hotel room and make a night of it if they’re attending a function somewhere with their wife/sweetheart.

In both scenarios outlined above, people are thinking before drinking.

In the end, refocus the message about the dangers of drinking and driving and hope that the courts continue clamping down in much the same way that saw the Pembroke dentist sent up the river for five years.

Those two things won’t solve the problem — I don’t think anything ever will — but they can go a long way to minimizing it.

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