RCMP statistics show the number of charges related to impaired driving in Newfoundland and Labrador has gone down only slightly in the last year, but one officer believes that overall awareness of the issue is on the rise.
While the numbers this year are similar to 2020 and 2021, general awareness of issues related to impaired driving has increased, says Sgt. Matthew Christie of RCMP Traffic Services East.
"I think anybody in the province who has a driver's licence now knows that impaired driving is against the law," said Christie.
"People just need to be making good decisions around that. And some of that, or most of that, starts with planning ahead."
In 2021, the provincial RCMP laid impaired-driving charges against 398 people.
From Jan. 1 to Dec. 14, 2022, that number was at 300. Of these, 235 were impaired by alcohol, 53 by drugs and 12 by a combination of both. Forty-two were using an off-road vehicle.
Yet those numbers will likely change before the end of December, as some investigations are ongoing.
While the numbers fluctuate over the course of the year, said Christie, some months bring more arrests due to impaired driving than others.
"Usually around the Christmas season, we do see an increase," said Christie. "It's just kind of a time of year when people get together and seem to increase their alcohol and sometimes drug use."
While this year's number of charges due to drug-impaired driving is also similar to 2021, Christie said public understanding, especially around issues of marijuana use and driving, still needs to improve.
"We've seen cannabis legalized in the last number of years, so we have seen an increase in the number of cannabis-impaired drivers," said Christie. "There's a misconception that cannabis use does not impair your ability to drive."
The RCMP, he said, tries to decrease the number of impaired-driving incidents through targeted enforcement on the roads.
"We look at where are crashes happening, where are most of these arrests taking place and we like to focus our enforcement efforts in those areas," said Christie. "Of course, we also do this with training in our officers."
Education initiatives, said Christie, are also invaluable in trying to make more people understand the consequences of impaired driving. He urges people to plan ahead for social gatherings that might include alcohol, and get a ride or a cab home.
The news of an impaired driver having killed someone is not just devastating for their family to receive, it's also "extremely difficult" for an officer to deliver, he said.
"There's no amount of training or experience that can prepare you or make it any easier to do that. And especially this time of year, the effect that it has on families is unimaginable," said Christie.
"I certainly don't want to knock on any doors over the holidays just to tell a family that their loved one has died as the result of an impaired driver. I've had to do that too many times in my career and I'm hoping I don't have to do it this Christmas season."