Fewer people choosing to drive impaired, police chief says

Prince Albert Police Chief Jon Bergen speaks to reporters on Jan. 15 2020 about the 2019 year-end crime statistics. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

While both property and violent crime rose in Prince Albert last year, Police Chief Jon Bergen was pleased to see that at least one other category saw a decline — traffic offences.

The total number of tragic violations handed out by the police force fell by 13.27 per cent, including an 18.06 per cent drop in impaired driving and refusal charges. A total of 127 impaired driving or refusal charges were laid in 2019.

Alcohol violations also dipped. Alcohol tickets fell by 12.45 per cent year over year, as did arrests made of intoxicated people.

“When we look at our truck, our rod safety and traffic safety, one of the stats we are observing is that we’ve had more roadside checks, more vehicle stops, more traffic enforcement and fewer impaired drivers,” Bergen said.

‘We see that people are making a better decision when it comes to impaired drinking and driving.”

In late 2018 new legislation came into effect provincially lowering the level you can receive a provincial impaired driving ticket 0.04 per cent alcohol in the blood while also strengthening penalties by increasing impound times and fines.

That was paired with a public education campaign aimed at reducing the number of cases of impaired driving.

While impaired driving appears to be falling, SGI has notice increases in the number of people driving while distracted, including while on their phones.

The province has responded by taking the same approach it did with impaired driving — strengthening punishments and launching public education campaigns.

“There are lots of things we can do on fines, drivers license suspensions, taking people’s cars away for a period of time,” Minister responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave told the Daily Herald back in July.

“ We have to bring that number down, by having strong enforcement and by people just not using their phones or being distracted”.

The province did just that. As of February 1, a first-offence distracted driving ticket will more than double to $580. It will still have four demerit points.

The fine for a second offence within one year of being convicted of the first will increase to $1,400, as well as an additional four demerits plus an immediate seven-day vehicle seizure. A third offence within one year of the first conviction will result in a $2,100 ticket, four more demerits and another seven-day vehicle seizure.

“Enough is enough,” Minister Responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave said in a statement.

“Despite increased enforcement by police and significant awareness efforts by SGI, 22 people lost their lives on Saskatchewan roads in 2018 due to distracted driving or inattention. That is 22 deaths too many.”

“Ultimately, distracted driving can lead to the same unfortunate result as imprinted driving, and that’s a collision causing injury or death,” Bergen told media this week.

“Drivers are going to be held to higher accountability if they do choose to use a device and drive while distracted. Those tools are coming into force for us to … hold people accountable if they do make a poor decision.”