A recent article by News1130 suggested that drunk driving numbers are falling in Vancouver. The article cites statistics provided by the Vancouver Police Department spokesperson, Brian Montague to show that in 2013, 1317 IRPs were issued to drivers. In 2014, the number fell to 1100 in 2014, and by 2015 it was down to 1030.
At first blush the numbers appear to show a general decline in drunk driving in Vancouver, but these numbers do not tell the full story.
Constable Montague credits the drop in numbers to British Columbia's controversial Immediate Roadside Prohibition law. And if you look solely at the numbers of IRPs issued, you might readily conclude that this means that drunk driving is on the decline. But a question that immediately comes to my mind is why Vancouver sees a decline while several other jurisdictions in British Columbia see an increase in drunk driving?
For one thing, it's impossible to measure the number of drunk drivers because many go undetected. If a potentially impaired driver doesn't go through a roadblock, or isn't stopped by police for some unusual driving, they may get home without a problem. You can only truly measure the number of impaired drivers that are apprehended by police, not whether the numbers are increasing or decreasing.
The article mentions also only Immediate Roadside Prohibition numbers. This does not reflect the reality of police dealing with impaired drivers, which include a variety of sanctions. First time drunk drivers are typically given an Immediate Roadside Prohibition, but many are issued 24-Hour Prohibitions from driving. Second time or subsequent drunk drivers are supposed to be dealt with by way of criminal charge, according to the province's IRP policy. So falling numbers may represent higher rates of recidivism. This is the opposite effect than what the police and the province want. Similarly, IRP policy dictates that police should not issue a prohibition in the case of an accident, injury, or death.
We have zero statistics from the Vancouver Police Department about the number of accidents where drugs or alcohol were a factor. No statistics released about the number of deaths or injuries where drugs or alcohol were a factor. And no statistics for how many criminal charges were forwarded to Crown for impaired driving, as opposed to police issuing an IRP. The numbers relied on by the officer in the article are simply incomplete and are, as a result, misleading. A proper breakdown of the data is necessary for the police to make these types of claims.
And what about hit and run cases, where the police don't deal with the driver because they escape? We can safely assume that a contributing factor in a decision to flee the scene of an accident may be that the driver has been drinking and does not want an IRP or a drunk driving charge. If the hit and run numbers are increasing (and VPD says they are dramatically increasing), then maybe the decline in IRPs is offset by the number of people trying to escape the consequences. And if that's the case, then the IRP scheme and its "toughest consequences in Canada" message is having a detrimental effect on road safety.
It's also important to break down the numbers based on the enforcement efforts. I have been told that the efforts in enforcement of Counterattack roadblocks this holiday season was greater than last year. As Constable Montague says, the budget issues determine the number of roadblocks. There were, put simply, more roadblocks during the busy holiday season this year than last. More roadblocks means more opportunity for police to issue prohibitions. More drivers are checked at a roadblock than in random patrols where police are looking for bad driving.
Perhaps if the Vancouver Police Department want to sell us on the story that drunk driving numbers are falling, they should release statistics showing that the level of enforcement remained steady over the past three years. But they haven't done that. Instead, they've simply said that 95 out of 145 Immediate Roadside Prohibitions in December, 2015 were issued at roadblocks.
Until I see a full statistical picture, I simply cannot believe there is a decline. I wouldn't attribute any decline based on these numbers to the supposed effectiveness of the Immediate Roadside Prohibition scheme simply because the police and Government want to sell that story. With different experiences in different jurisdictions, and only the tip of the iceberg revealed, these statements are neither safe nor reliable.
Vancouver Criminal Lawyer with a focus on impaired driving, cannabis legalization and related issues, and immediate roadside prohibition defence.