MADD Canada CEO fears poor pandemic driving behaviour will peak over holidays

·3 min read

With road traffic reduced because of the pandemic, Andrew Murie thought impaired driving statistics would plummet this year.

The chief executive officer of MADD Canada is surprised at how wrong he was.

"I've been with MADD almost 25 years and … I've never seen anything like what's been happening during this pandemic," said Murie.

"Right across North America, we're seeing a huge upsurge, not only in impaired driving, but stunt driving … speeding, all kinds of road safety misuse happening during the pandemic," he said by phone from Oakville, Ont.

"It started slowly in March and April because everybody was locked down, and it's just taken off since that time."

Because the year hasn't ended yet, widespread data hasn't been collected and assembled, but Murie said some groups and police forces have released preliminary data.

CBC
CBC

He said the jump is unfortunate, because before the pandemic, Canada — and New Brunswick — had been experiencing a large and steady decline for many years in the number of alcohol-related fatal crashes.

In fact, before the pandemic, Canada was at an all-time low for the number of alcohol-related deaths.

During the pandemic — when people spent less time on the roads than before — he expected to see a corresponding drop in the number of fatalities.

But there hasn't been a drop, said Murie.

And he worries that things will only get worse over the holidays.

He urges people to "stay home, enjoy the holidays, enjoy your family in the limited capacities that are recommended by public health," but don't get behind the wheel of any kind of vehicle if you've consumed alcohol or drugs.

Murie was asked about impaired driving statistics released earlier this week by the New Brunswick RCMP.

Those are two simple things that people can do to greatly reduce the amount of fatalities on our highway. - Const. Hans Ouellette

In its annual report, the force said the number of fatalities related to impairment increased by nearly 37 per cent in 2019 over the previous year.

But with a relatively low provincial population, Murie said one accident with multiple victims can skew the numbers in a given year. The RCMP also don't patrol municipalities that have their own police forces, like Saint John, Fredericton, Miramichi and Edmundston.

Within RCMP territory, there were 19 fatalities in 2018 where alcohol or drugs were involved and 25 last year.

In 2019, the RCMP in New Brunswick responded to 68 fatal accidents that resulted in 78 deaths — that's an increase of about 16 per cent from the previous year, which saw 60 accidents with 67 deaths.

RCMP spokesperson Const. Hans Ouellette said one of the most striking statistics in the report is how many deaths could potentially be prevented if people just followed the rules.

He said nearly 63 per cent of all fatal crashes involve impairment or people not wearing a seatbelt.

"Those are two simple things that people can do to greatly reduce the amount of fatalities on our highway: one, buckle up, two, don't drive impaired," said Ouellette.

Murie suspects the numbers for 2020 will likely buck a decades-long downward trend. He said since 2010, there had been a "dramatic drop" in alcohol-related deaths — and then the pandemic hit.

"We're going to look back on this pandemic and kind of shake our heads and say, 'You know, we made a lot of bad-behaviour decisions during the pandemic.'"