Editorial: Crack down on drunk drivers

Back in July, two young men died in a high-speed, alcohol-related crash on the Don Valley Parkway, and the question of tougher laws against impaired driving resurfaced. But only briefly.

This month, the carnage is outside the East York area, but like the rest of Toronto, we’ve seen the grisly pictures of a van sliced in half by a hurtling BMW in the north end, and three more people have become victims of yet another alleged drunk driver.  And already, the clamour for tougher drunk driving laws is fading

So what is the problem?

Canada has the highest legal blood/alcohol limit in the world, at 0.08 per cent. Though some countries have the same limit, none are higher than the true north, strong and free.

For a nation ranked just this month as the fourth best place to live in the world, Canada seems to have trouble with a basic quality-of-life issue: keeping alcohol out of the cars after leaving the bars.

Maybe it’s the punishment. To be cliché, maybe the punishment should better fit the crime.

Here is the current law regarding impaired driving offences: first offence — $1,000 fine, one-year prohibition on driving; second offence — 30 days in jail, two-year prohibition on driving; third and subsequent offences — 120 days in jail, three-year prohibition on driving.

The phrase “third and subsequent offences” makes for the scariest reading. How many chances should people get who make the choice — or exert their “right” — to pound a few brews, then go for a cruise?

Nineteen countries actually have zero blood-alcohol tolerance. We may not need to go that far, but surely an advanced, affluent nation like Canada can move closer to the forefront in this critical social challenge.

Consider the example of Taiwan, where a person caught driving just once with a blood-alcohol level at the Canadian legal limit would receive a one-year licence suspension and a hefty fine. And if you came in at 0.11 per cent, you would face charges of ‘offences against public safety,’ involving a possible prison sentence of up to one year. And in the event you caused serious injury or death, there would be a lifelong driving ban.

Meanwhile, in Canada, we’ve recently heard about a driver with a 35-year history of impaired driving charges. He is currently serving a six-year sentence — after his 39th conviction,

Sadly, we have a long way to go if we want to see any real change in the frequency of drunk driving offences in this country. This is an issue our leaders should be looking at, be ashamed of, and work to change. Then maybe we’ll be on a par with the rest of the world.