THUNDER BAY - The number of drivers operating a motor vehicle on city streets while under the influence of drugs or alcohol was at an all-time high in 2018, say Thunder Bay Police, with drug-related impairment significantly up from previous years.
“It’s certainly concerning in the sense that we know the majority of the population doesn’t do it,” said Thunder Bay Police Service Const. Mark Cattani. “We know that most people are not drinking and driving or doing drugs and driving to begin with. We are trying to find a way to speak and address those people who do it.”
According to the Thunder Bay Police Service, 178 people were arrested for impaired driving in 2018, up from 175 in 2017.
During the Festive Ride campaign alone, police arrested 12 motorists for operating a vehicle while under the influence.
The Thunder Bay Police Service said the increasing number of impaired drivers arrested in 2018 was consistent with increases seen in the past few years. A decade ago, the average number of motorists arrested for impaired driving was 120 per year.
Drug-related impairment was a major contributing factor in the growing number of drivers arrested in 2018.
In the first half of 2018, four people were arrested for drug-impairment while behind the wheel, accounting for approximately four per cent of those stopped.
In the second half of 2018, the number of drug-related impairment increased to 23, accounting for approximately 23 per cent of all drivers stopped.
Cattani said if drug-impaired drivers were removed from the equation, the number of impaired driving incidents in 2018 would actually be down.
“If we look at the big picture over the whole calendar year, the drug-impaired drivers and our ability to detect them actually helps fill in the complement and get up to that record number,” he said. “If you took out that drug-impaired driving component, then our numbers are actually down, which is a good thing.”
Cattani does not believe the legalization of cannabis on Oct. 17 played a significant role in the increased number of drug-impaired drivers on city roads.
Officers are trained to identify seven categories of drugs and there was a wide range of impairment across all categories.
“I don’t think the legalization contributed all that much,” Cattani said. “I think at the end of the day, the services investment in more drug impairment detection tools and training is really what paid off in our ability to get those drivers off the road.”
Officers have undergone Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and Drug Recognition Expert training in the last year and Cattani said the Police Service has doubled its compliment of drug recognition experts.
“I think just putting our resources into the training of officers has really helped identify what we may have missed in the past,” Cattani added. “We are going to be refreshing some officers who already have the training and get them back up to speed and we are rolling out a couple more training courses for officers who don’t yet have it to fill in the blanks across the board.”
Impaired driving figures from 2018
According to Police, in 2018 the average age of impaired drivers was 35-years-old, with the youngest driver arrested being just 16-years-old and the oldest at 77-years-old.
Of the drivers stopped, 72 per cent were male. The highest blood alcohol concentration was recorded at 397mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, which is nearly five times the legal limit.
Weekend late night and early morning hours was when the majority of impaired drivers were on city roads. The 2 a.m. hour saw the most impaired drivers, at 15 per cent, while nearly 40 per cent of all drivers caught were stopped between midnight and 4 a.m.
Almost half of all impaired drivers were arrested on the weekend and the distribution of impaired drivers was ubiquitous across the city, with the downtown cores seeing slightly more incidents.
Throughout 2018, 41 per cent of impaired drivers were involved in a collision.
Cattani said Thunder Bay Police will continue its efforts to reduce impaired driving throughout 2019 through public messaging and focussed projects.
The public is reminded to report any incidents involving a suspected impaired driver to police.