Record Number of Impaired Drivers in 2019 in Thunder Bay

Impaired Driving - Thunder Bay Drivers don't seem to be getting the message
Impaired Driving - Thunder Bay Drivers don't seem to be getting the message

THUNDER BAY – Drinking alcohol or taking drugs and then getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle seems to be a sad tradition in our city.

Impaired driving arrests and convictions have according to the Thunder Bay Police Service continued to rise over the past half-decade. This despite public education efforts and the many options for people to NOT drive impaired.

Thunder Bay Police report that they have increased investment in training for new officers, new drug-testing technologies, and an increase in the number of Drug Recognition Experts. All of this has paid dividends for the Thunder Bay Police Service, as a record number of impaired drivers were arrested and charged in 2019.

TBPS states that the number of impaired drivers captured has steadily risen over the past 5 years, from an average of approximately 120 per year to a record of 204 drivers in 2019.

Not only has the sheer numbers of impaired drivers arrested risen, but so has the proportion of the drivers whose impairment has been attributed to drug use, whether illicit or prescribed. Whereas the national average as recently as 2015 was that drug-impaired driving made up 4% of all impaired driving incidents, the Thunder Bay Police Service found that nearly one-quarter of all arrested parties were impaired by drug(s). This 3:1 alcohol to drug ratio represents the highest known level of drug-impaired driving in the province.

All new constables with the Thunder Bay Police Service now receive training in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST), an effective tool at determining impairment in both alcohol and drug-impaired drivers.

Officers already with the SFST skills have received refresher training in 2019, and two new Drug Recognition Experts were added to the Service’s complement this year. In addition, government funding allowed the Service to procure three new approved drug screening devices, which effectively tell officers whether a driver has cannabis or cocaine present in their system.

Demographically speaking, the make-up of impaired drivers has not changed significantly from 2018 to 2019. The average age of an impaired driver is still in the mid-30’s, whereas the youngest driver arrested was in their late teens and the oldest driver in their late-70’s.

The proportion of impaired drivers who are female rose somewhat in 2019 from 28% to 36% of all drivers. The national average has typically been that female drivers make up 20% of the offending population.

The highest blood alcohol concentration recorded in 2019 was 399 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood, five times the legal limit.

The most prevalent time for impaired driving, unsurprisingly, is the 2:00 am hour, when most alcohol-serving establishments close; however, impaired drivers were caught in every single hour of the day over the course of the year. The weekend also represents the most common time of the week for impaired driving.

December was the worst month for impaired driving in 2019, setting a record high for the number of individuals caught at 36. This includes both the Festive RIDE figures as well as those arrested by uniform patrol officers. A typical month sees between 15 to 20 drivers arrested for impaired driving.

The most important statistic is how many impaired drivers were arrested as a result of a motor vehicle collision. In 2018, 41% of all impaired drivers were caught only after a collision had already occurred and officers were called to the scene. Largely due to the investment in detection skills and technology, however, the Thunder Bay Police Service reduced the proportion of collision-related arrests to 26%. As alcohol- or drug-related collisions often result in loss of life or serious injury, damage to property, and increased costs borne by society, a considerable reduction in impaired driving collisions is significant.

The Service will continue to find innovative means to reduce impaired driving in 2020 in an effort to bring the number of impaired driving collisions to zero. Please do your part, and report impaired driving to the police by calling 911.