The government of Alberta has proposed tough, new rules around drunk driving. These include automatic, multi-day license suspensions and car seizures with (effectively) no appeal as the suspensions would be over before the appeal could be heard. Paula Simons has a thoughtful critique of this program.
According to Minister of Solicitor General and Public Security Jonathan Denis, “Alberta’s approach targets those most likely to repeatedly drive drunk. It’s about changing driver behaviour through enforcing tougher sanctions.”
The rationale for these changes include the injury toll from drunk driving. In 2010, there were 96 fatalities and 1384 injuries resulting from drinking and driving in Alberta.
My question is why target drinking and driving for new measures instead of, say, workplace safety? While certainly impaired driving is bad and the injury toll is concerning, it can’t hold a candle to the injury stats in Alberta workplaces.
In 2010, there were 46,000 disabling injury claims (serious injuries were a worker could not do their job the next day) accepted by the WCB. This includes some 570,000 days lost from work. If you were to include all forms of workplace injury, the actual number of workplace injuries in Alberta would be closer to half a million annually.
The fatality data is a bit confusing but the 136 fatalities in 2010 reported here seems to be about right (accepting that there is significant underreporting for occupational disease). The upward trend-line in raw numbers and that fatalities appear to broadly track economic activity are both notable.
So why come down hard on impaired drivers?
One factor may be that extra punishment for drunk drivers is administratively easy and basically cost neutral. There is already an effective enforcement system in place, which will simply be granted extra powers to punish violators. In fact, if the police begin levying administrative fines instead of laying charges, this could result in a net reduction in court costs. This would not be the case for increasing enforcement of OHS rules. This would require many more inspectors and entail significant additional costs.
A second factor is that drunk drivers are already social pariahs and have no organized political lobby. The same cannot be said of employers who injure and kill workers—those employers are a powerful group in Alberta politics. And rolling out a system of administrative fines would be a significant change that they have resisted each time it has been discussed over the past 10 years.
It will be interesting to see if the government actually creates a meaningful enforcement system for workplace injuries over the next year. Based on the past 10 years of inactivity, I’m not holding my breath.
-- Bob Barnetson