Harsher punishments, safer streets

Dissuade younger drivers from getting behind the wheel

Serious repercussions for driving while intoxicated need to be enforced upon first offence, writes Sonia Chase.
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In September of 2012, I received a phone call I never thought I would get. 
 
My cousin had been in a car accident and was in critical condition. It was one of those experiences where you remember strange details but not anything particularly important.
 
We learned the details when we met his mother at the hospital. He’d been drinking, but was the passenger and wasn’t wearing a seatbelt while the driver, who was also impaired, was operating the vehicle. It took him months to recover from his injuries whereas the driver left the accident with only minor injuries.
 
We’ve all grown up with the message that drinking and driving isn’t okay, that it’s dangerous. We had assemblies in school and Mothers Against Drunk Driving commercials played on TV. Yet, young adults, between the ages of 20-24 have the highest impaired driving rates. 
 
If this proves anything, it’s that real prevention of drunk driving lies in issuing very real punishments when someone makes that potentially lethal decision. 
 
My cousin was 26-years-old and the driver was even younger and only with a G2 license. I’m not intending to assign blame, but he almost took something from my family that we could never get back. My cousin was in the ICU in another country while the driver was at home with his family, physically unharmed.
 
The driver was speeding down a side street and flipped the vehicle, sending my cousin through the windshield onto the ground metres from the vehicle. He broke the majority of his ribs, his pelvis and his collarbone. The worst of his injuries, however, was his heart: he had torn his aorta. 
 
Upon arriving at the hospital in Windsor he was transferred to the trauma hospital in Detroit, during which he had to be resuscitated in the ambulance. 
 
I remember the phone call and being in the back of the car as we drove down to Windsor in the middle of the night to meet my family at a hospital in Detroit. Upon arrival in Detroit, he was rushed immediately into open heart surgery to stop the bleeding from his rupture. 
 
The next few months were a very hard for my cousin but he was lucky enough to have made a good recovery and was able to make it back home, something a lot of victims of impaired driving are sadly not able to do.
 
The driver had a clean driving record, he’d never been charged or convicted of impaired driving before.
 
According to the Ministry of Transportation Ontario, had no one been harmed in the accident, he would’ve been subject to a mandatory education program, a one-year minimum license suspension, as well as a one-year minimum of driving with an ignition interlock system.
 
Because there was harm caused, sentencing was up to the discretion of the judge with no minimum requirement and up to a maximum of 10 years 
in prison. 
 
This form of sentencing is appropriate because the amount of bodily harm caused in different cases can vary so much.
 
However, for those who’re caught with a DUI and thankfully don’t harm anyone, the punishments aren’t strong enough.
 
 A one-year suspension of your license isn’t proportionate to the potential harm you can cause while driving under the influence. 
 
Statistics Canada’s 2015 report on impaired driving states that “one in six persons accused in an impaired driving court case in 2014/15 had been previously accused in another impaired driving case during the preceding 10 years.” It’s clear that people are repeatedly offending, signifying that the consequences they receive aren’t strong enough the first time around. 
 
There’s a perception that you won’t get caught or can get away with it with repercussions akin to a slap on the wrist. 
 
I’ve been in situations where after a party I’ve taken away someone’s keys because they believed that their driving capabilities were strong enough to surpass a risk they didn’t deem legitimate. 
 
People aren’t scared of a one-year license suspension. 
 
Mandatory reparations are needed and jail time and/or community service would be more effective than just a license suspension. Especially because the highest rate of offenders are university-aged students it’s important to deter impaired driving at this age so the behaviour doesn’t continue into 
the future. 
 
If people fear tangible consequences more than moral consequences, we need to make sentencing for impaired driving more impactful for first time offenders. That way we can prevent families from going through the emotional trauma that comes from impaired driving. 
 
Sonia Chase is fourth-year Political Studies student. 

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