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Zero tolerance may be necessary

Drinking and driving doesn't seem to be decreasing at a fast enough pace.

Drinking and driving doesn't seem to be decreasing at a fast enough pace.

A Harris/Decima poll of about 2,000 people, charged by the Canadian Automobile Association, showed 24 per cent of Canadians admitted to driving at least once in the past 12 months while they believed they were at or above the legal limit. That's one in four Canadians and shows only those willing to admit to it in a poll.

Being from a very rural part of the country, I've borne witness to this activity plenty. People live outside of town, or in a neighbouring town, and after a few drinks, or several, drive home.

And it's not like Canadians are unaware of the risks. Ninety-eight per cent of those surveyed in the same poll considered drinking and driving to be unacceptable behaviour.

This doesn't make a lot of sense. If everybody thinks it's wrong, the only explanation is people just don't care. Clearly there is not enough stigma attached to this. Maybe the penalties aren't steep enough, though I think they are. Losing my licence for a year would really crimp my style, and that's nothing to what my insurance would balloon up to. If a collision happened to harm someone else or worse, prison time should be enough of a deterrent.

Road Safety Monitor polls conducted this fall by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, a Canadian independent charitable road safety institute, with 1,201 Canadians, showed a different story. The Dec. 21, 2010 press release said only 5.5 per cent of respondents admitted to driving over the legal limit in the past 12 months, a drop from 8.2 per cent in 2007. But more than 24 per cent of Canadians polled admitted to driving after drinking some amount of alcohol, but still thought to be below .08, in the past 30 days.

Those numbers may look a little better but many Canadians appear to be looking at this law as a suggestion. Part of the problem with those poll numbers is people can't really tell just by sensing, whether or not they are below the legal limit. Lots of people will shrug it off, say they're fine to drive, get home without any trouble and consider they were below .08, but they don't know unless they're pulled over and tested.

Perhaps then, the best way to combat this problem is a zero tolerance, zero-blood-alcohol policy. It takes the guess work out of wondering if you can drive after two drinks, or five drinks in five hours. There are more variables than just how much alcohol one consumed, so it's very difficult for anyone to make an informed decision based purely on how they feel or by counting the drinks and the hours.

Maybe all cars should come equipped with an ignition interlock device. At least people would know for certain whether they can legally drive.

I am comfortable with current laws, but a zero-blood-alcohol policy may mean safer roads and fewer fatalities. And though it may be a minor inconvenience for even the most responsible drivers, that must take a back seat to the potential lives saved.