Vessey’s Scarlet Letter is no solution to impaired driving
Robert Vessey’s Summit on Drinking and Driving was less of a summit and more a one-dimensional photo-op that will do little to reduce what is a scourge of Island society.
The Transportation Minister’s gathering generated a lot of publicity. What it failed to do was identify solutions that will actually make a dent in drinking and driving rates.
The reason is simple. The minister didn’t invite the right people to his photo-op.
The CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving was there.
Police officers were there.
Department of Transportation officials were there.
They are all well intentioned. But their ability to effect change is minimal. The so-called “solutions” proposed simply allow government to say it is doing something when in reality it is doing nothing at all.
PEI’s drinking and driving rates have increased dramatically since 2006. In 2011 our impaired driving rate trailed only Saskatchewan. Our courts deliver the toughest first offense sentences in the country. Nationwide only eight per cent of those convicted face jail time. On PEI the percentage soars to a staggering 90 per cent plus for first time offenders.
Punitive measures alone will not decrease drinking and driving. Yet what idea does Robert Vessey grapple onto as a solution? He wants to issue special identifying license plates - in effect a modern day Scarlet Letter – to anyone convicted of multiple offenses.
Perhaps the minister should open the criminal code and point to the section that says public humiliation and embarrassment is an effective form of punishment?
He won’t find it.
The minister’s idea is nothing but political grandstanding verging on silliness.
MADD wants PEI to impound cars. It cites British Columbia as a model to follow. Perhaps such an idea can work in BC’s Lower Mainland where public transportation is readily available. That is not the case on PEI.
Both proposals fail to acknowledge that the median family income on PEI is among the lowest in the country, which means that impounding cars or slapping a Scarlet Letter on a vehicle will punish a lot of spouses and children who don’t deserve it while doing little to reduce impaired driving.
This is no way minimizes the need to deal with the issue. But if Robert Vessey is serious he should seek serious solutions including demanding co-operation from his own government colleagues.
Where was Innovation Minister Al Roach whose department just approved a $2 million plus loan so a Charlottetown brewery can expand? To make matters worse government used a fund supposedly geared toward information technology, aerospace, renewable energy and bioscience.
If reducing drinking and driving is a true government priority it is hypocritical for the Ghiz government to offer a $2 million loan to make more beer. If the expansion is such a good idea let a private bank finance it.
Where was Health Minister Doug Currie whose department has failed to make necessary investments to inpatient addiction treatment to meet a surge in demand? Drug addicts now jump the queue while alcoholics must wait for weeks or months for support.
If drinking and driving is a true government priority it is hypocritical not to make the necessary investments to addiction treatment.
And why was Transportation Minister Robert Vessey not talking about the need to expand public transportation as a basic cog in combatting impaired driving? Impaired driving rates decrease in urban areas where public transportation is readily available.
If Vessey is serious he is being hypocritical to promote a Scarlet Letter as a solution while ignoring public transportation.
Drinking and driving is not an issue the Department of Transportation can deal with in isolation. It demands a uniform approach from all of government. It demands the Ghiz government not talk out of both sides of its mouth.
That means not financing a brewery expansion.
It means paying more than lip service addiction services.
It means investing in rural public transportation rather than punishing families for a deed they did not commit.
And it means investing in real solutions not photo-ops.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at email@example.com