August 23, 2014
TORONTO – Many drunk drivers are escaping justice by heading to the emergency room after a crash and leaving innocent victims in their wake, says MADD Canada.
But it’s a loophole the group feels the federal government can close by making blood testing mandatory for all motorists involved in collisions with serious injuries or death.
“The chronic drunk drivers know to ask to be taken to hospital after an accident,” MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie said recently. “It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free pass.”
He said by asking to go to the ER, the motorist’s medical treatment becomes the priority and cops must put any thoughts of a road-side breath test on hold.
And once the patient is at the hospital, Murie said there’s a good chance of getting off scot-free.
The investigating officer may go through the difficult process of obtaining a court-ordered warrant to seize a blood sample for alcohol testing, which is fairly routine when a driver is obviously drunk.
But drivers whose impairment is less noticeable can slip through the cracks, Murie said.
Privacy laws prevent ER doctors from informing police when they a suspect a patient is impaired, he said, explaining the physicians’ hands are tied unless an officer shows up with a warrant.
Murie pointed to a recent study that found only 11% of the injured impaired drivers treated at a British Columbia hospital between 1992 and 2000 were ultimately convicted of impaired driving charges.
However, that study’s results also included accused drunk drivers who were charged but managed to beat the rap.
Carolyn Swinson, the Director of Victim Services for MADD Toronto, is all too familiar with the pain victims’ families endure when the death of a family member goes unpunished.
Her son, Robert, 27, was driving home after buying his girlfriend a Valentine’s Day gift in 1996 when he was killed by a car driven by 32-year-old woman.
“Her blood alcohol level was two-and-a-half times the legal limit, but she was later acquitted on a technicality,” Swinson said.
Impaired driving has become “so technical” that unless the officer has been “absolutely meticulous,” defence lawyers will “find a way to get their client off,” she said. “It’s infuriating.”
She believes drunk drivers would have one less avenue to exploit if the feds made blood tests mandatory following serious crashes.
Toronto Police Const. Clint Stibbe disputed MADD Canada’s claim that drunk drivers are escaping charges by going to the hospital, at least in Toronto, but said they would support any initiative by the government that would mean safer roads.
“If even one life is saved then it’s absolutely worthwhile,” Stibbe said.