Pandemic restrictions not putting brakes on impaired driving

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The three cases of impaired driving causing death moving through Chatham’s courts is “unfortunately … not unusual,” says the CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada.

The non-profit has seen an uptick of impaired driving from drugs and alcohol during the roughly 14 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrew Murie said.

“There’s been a huge upsurge in alcohol and cannabis consumption, so we’re seeing a number of people charged with impaired driving,” Murie said.

He added the frequency of impaired driving cases varies from community to community.  From information MADD has gathered through social media reports on impaired driving incidents, fatalities haven’t increased but, even with fewer drivers on the road during stretches of the pandemic, they haven’t diminished.

In fact, MADD has noticed the number of risk-based driving behaviours, especially stunt driving, has increased enormously, Murie said.


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An alarming trend MADD has seen recently is an increase in drivers being charged for being impaired by drugs, Murie added.

He said MADD has seen drivers – arrested for being impaired by opiates – who are so high they’ve been found passed out behind the wheel.

“I’ve been with MADD 25 years, and I can tell you it’s only in the last couple of years I started seeing drivers passed out,” Murie said.

He’s noticed a lot of opiate-related impaired cases reported on social media in the Sarnia, Chatham-Kent and Windsor areas

“For the size of those communities, there’s been a lot,” Murie said.

Over the long term, the number of drivers impaired by alcohol has actually decreased, Murie said, but MADD’s research shows there’s a rising number of drug impaired-related fatalities.

“We’ve almost substituted one for the other, which is really unfortunate.”

Chatham-Kent police Sgt. Jim Lynds, who heads up the traffic management section, said Chatham-Kent police has seen an increase in charges of impaired driving by drugs during the past six weeks.

“However, it is too soon to identify this as a trend or an anomaly,” he said.

Lynds said, overall, impaired driving is not on the rise in Chatham-Kent.

Like other incidents police investigate, there will be peaks and valleys over time, he noted, and generally “we look at several years of data to identify trends in these areas.”

Local police are adept at spotting drivers suspected of being impaired by drugs, he said.


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When changes were made to impaired driving laws a few years ago, Chatham-Kent police “took advantage of upgraded training in this area and we continue to ensure our front-line officers receive updated training on these skills to deal with people who decide to drive while under the influence of a drug,” Lynds said.

A positive growing trend MADD is seeing, Murie said, is the “number of citizens who are calling 911 to report impaired drivers to police.”

“I would say well above 50 per cent of the arrests that are made, some citizen called that in,” he added.

Lynds said the public help can be invaluable in helping keep Chatham-Kent roads safe.

“If you observe what you believe to be an impaired driver, please call 911 to potentially assist in preventing a senseless tragedy,” he added.

Lynds said the traffic unit has been involved in both proactive and reactive aspects of the anti-drinking and driving message for decades.

“We support this initiative trying to make our community roads safer for all who use them as these serious collision investigations involving impairment due to alcohol or drugs are preventable tragedies,” the officer said. “Some of the difficulties all first responders deal with in these cases is the senseless loss of life.”

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