Sobering statistics

Gerry Phelan
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I was flabbergasted when I heard that 90,000 potential murderers had been cruising the streets of Canada.

Wait — the number is actually more than that. The 90,000 are actually only those who have been caught. There are, without a doubt, thousands, if not tens of thousands of other impaired drivers getting behind the wheel every year, taking their lives and our lives for granted.  

The latest numbers from Statistics Canada on impaired driving incidents in this country are a wakeup call, and a rude one at that.

Imagine everyone in Mount Pearl, Paradise, Conception Bay South, Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, every single person, driving drunk, and you’d have the number of impaired drivers nabbed in Canada in 2011. Most of the cases were alcohol related, but a small number involved impairments from drugs.

Police officers in this province are no slackers when it comes to trying to curb the crime. More than 1,800 impaired driving related offences in 2011 were in our province, and some of those arrests were due to you.  

It really wasn’t so long ago that it seemed like too much trouble to pick up the phone to report someone breaking the law. Times have changed. I am impressed daily by the over­night reports from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary that reference arrests made because of reports from concerned citizens.

Many of the cases involve impair­ed drivers, and the 911 campaign launched by Mothers Against Drunk Driving must get some of the credit.

I initially feared emergency operators might get swamped with prank calls, but the more I see the results, the happier I am. Our tips about suspected drunk drivers are made at all times of the day. I am especially impressed with those from restaurant drive-thru staff, who get to see drivers up close as they order a late-night burger or sandwich.

Peer pressure is normally against tattletales, so someone has done something right in convincing everyone that reporting impaired drivers is the thing to do.

Those tips sometimes lead to other charges, as well, such as one this week where a call from the public about a possible impaired driver also resulted in charges of driving with a suspended licence and no insurance.

Often, the drivers are also found — no surprise here — to owe thousands of dollars in unpaid fines.    

The Statistics Canada report says “impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada.” The most recent data available from Transport Canada shows that “at least 635 persons were killed in a car crash involving an impaired driver in 2008, compared to a total of 611 homicide victims in that same year.” That is staggering.

One impaired driver is one too many. I’ve encountered them at all hours, and there are still way too many  impaired people driving to work in the morning after a night of having a few swallies watching the hockey game or whatever. Still, what­ever the time of day, it is encouraging that people are willing to make the call to police.  

Part of it may be due to the popularity of the cellphone. Just about everyone has one, many with picture-taking ability, and it’s a lot easier now to call authorities from the road to report someone you suspect shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

These are also different times. Police forces have earned our respect, and many in today’s generation think a lot differently of the men and women in blue than was the case in the ’60s and ’70s.

Drunk driving is not only illegal, it is unacceptable in today’s world.  We are making headway. Citizen involvement is at an all-time high, but there is a long way to go.

Keep the calls com­ing. You may save a life. Let’s get the potential killers off our streets and convince lawmakers to keep them off.


Gerry Phelan is a journalist and

former broadcaster. He can be reached at

Organizations: Statistics Canada, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Transport Canada

Geographic location: Canada, Canada.Wait, Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • david
    January 18, 2013 - 10:03

    ...Drunk driving is not only illegal, it is unacceptable in today’s world..... this is completely, 100% true. What is also true is that drunk driving in Newfoundland is rampant, out of control and not treated very serosuly at all by the court system. Which begs the question: Is then Newfoundland part of the "world"? From a "civilized societal norms and expectations" perspective, it is clearly not.

  • Doug Smith
    January 18, 2013 - 09:15

    Mr. Phelan , interesting column however you didn’t suggest a way to stop impaired driving which as you say is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. I therefore, would like to suggest a method of prevention that would be very effective. The police would confiscate the vehicle of any driver found to be impaired. The driver would not be allowed to get the vehicle back ,ever. Thus guilty drivers would soon run out of vehicles if they continued to drive impaired. Only the rich would be able to continue to drive impaired and for them after three impaired convictions ten years in jail seems appropriate. Doug Smith, GFW