GRAEME LEBLANC: Excuses, excuses for drunk driving

Member of Greater Victoria's Integrated Road Safety Unit speaks out about drinking and driving

I’ve been thinking about excuses a lot lately. Actually, I’ve kind of been obsessing about them.

As a police officer who works at the Integrated Road Safety Unit, a traffic enforcement unit responsible for road safety throughout the Greater Victoria area, I hear a lot of excuses. And I really do mean a lot.

Our mandate is to reduce serious injury and fatal collisions by catching people doing those things that will kill or injure you or others – things like not wearing a seat belt, speeding, going through that stale yellow light, texting or using a cellphone while driving, and impaired driving.

The thing is, the people that I catch know what they’re doing is wrong. Typically, the excuses reflect nice, normal everyday people attempting to justify something that they know they shouldn’t have been doing. And they’re usually embarrassed that they got caught.

It’s the excuses I hear for impaired driving that bother me the most. Impaired driving remains the No. 1 criminal cause of death in Canada. I would argue that it is also the No. 1 preventable criminal cause of death in Canada.

In one case at a roadblock during the summer, a lady drove up in an SUV and I could see a kid’s booster seat in the back. She lied to me when I asked her if she had been drinking that night, but I could smell the wine from her breath and her lips and teeth were stained red. You know how the rest goes: she blew a fail on the roadside screening device and she received a 90-day driving prohibition and the vehicle was impounded for 30 days.

Now this is a woman who has never been in any kind of trouble in her life, not even a speeding ticket. When I asked her why she would take such a chance, she honestly and nonchalantly told me that she was running out to grab a pack of cigarettes. It was as if the trivial nature of her chore lessened the seriousness of her actions.

I can’t tell you how many people have spent our entire time together telling me that they just haven’t had anything to drink. Or that the meal that they just ate was cooked with alcohol. Or they had just kissed a person who was drunk. The list goes on.

I remember doing the breath tests for a fatal impaired driving collision a few years ago. The accused in the matter, since convicted, was grossly intoxicated.

His behaviour towards us was vile and towards the victim was callous and cruel. It remains some of the worst behaviour from an accused that I have ever dealt with.

We were all sickened, not only that he had killed a young lady, but that he spent the evening blaming the victim for causing her own death.

It wasn’t until I was set to testify at the preliminary hearing about a year later that I learned that the accused and the victim were actually good friends and had spent the evening drinking together. This person is currently serving a federal sentence, and deservedly so.

Some of the excuses I have heard seem to attempt to mitigate a criminal action of various scope and magnitude. The people that I am dealing with on an almost daily basis have lost their sense of social responsibility. Their values and duties to themselves and their community have been replaced with selfishness and indulgence.

Now, I don’t believe it is all doom and gloom. In fact, I believe we are getting much better. Love them or hate them, new laws introduced in 2010 have done more to reduce impaired driving fatalities than any other program implemented since we have been keeping the statistics.  The figures show that fatal collisions are down between 40 to 50 per cent annually, which equates to about 104 lives saved.

On a personal level, I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to be part of the largest reduction in impaired driving fatalities.

There are not too many jobs where you can say you had a part in saving 104 lives.

However, I do believe there is more work to be done. There are still far too many preventable collisions as a result of impaired drivers happening on a daily basis.

I suspect that when myself or one of my colleagues is knocking on your door to tell you that someone you love is injured or has been killed by a drunk driver, you won’t really care what the excuse is.

Acting Sgt. Graeme LeBlanc is on the Integrated Road Safety Unit in Victoria.

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