One in five Albertans would consider driving drunk: Mainstreet Poll

by Juris Graney

Almost one in five Albertans would consider driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs if it was only for a short distance on a quiet road, a new poll finds.

What's more troubling is that number, from an exclusive Mainstreet/Postmedia poll released Saturday, is lowballing the problem of impaired driving in the province.

If not for the survey's social desirability bias, in which self-identifying respondents tend to lean toward an answer that is more socially acceptable or refused to actually admit to risky behaviour like drunk driving, Mainstreet Research president Quito Maggi said the 18 percent figure could be much higher.

The poll found nine percent of Albertans said they had driven under the influence of alcohol and of those, 61 percent said that it had occurred in the past five years.

It also found that 13 percent of Edmontonians said they have been a passenger in a car when the driver was under the influence of alcohol. In Calgary, it was 11 percent.

Even though young men are more likely to engage in risky behaviour, the poll found the gender split for impaired driving in Alberta was eight percent for both men and women.

Between 2009 and 2013, 444 people were killed in Alberta and 6,649 people were injured in alcohol related collisions. During that period, the Alberta government estimated 1 in 5 drivers involved in fatal collisions had been drinking.

"The real take away here is that it's still a problem and even though there's been lots of advertising campaigns by every level of government, we are still seeing numbers that are too high," Maggi said.

"While Alberta has taken concrete steps to fight drinking and driving, it does appear there is still more work to do to change societal opinion."

Between 2009 and 2012, impaired driving incidents had slowly increased in Edmonton, peaking at 2,155 arrests, but those numbers have trailed off considerably since. In 2015, there were 1,630 arrests and the latest numbers from police show 1,076 arrests this year until the end of September.

Edmonton Police Service traffic services Sgt. Kerry Bates said with more dedicated enforcement through programs such as Checkstop, a year round campaign involving stationary road checks, and Curb the Danger, which encourages others to report impaired drivers and which gives them a Priority 1 status with police, it's only a matter of time before drivers get caught.

"I think that people who aren't risk takers are absorbing the message," he said, but added that habitual drunk drivers, who have been doing it for years, continue to push their luck and continue to endanger lives on the road.

"I don't know what it takes to get the message through to some people. It's like sticking your finger into a light socket. Until it happens, until you are caught at it, I don't think you really learn anything from it."

Earlier this year, a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found Canada was the top ranked of 19 wealthy countries for percentage of road deaths linked to alcohol impairment.

The proportion of deaths linked to alcohol impairment was 34 percent. The United States was ranked second at 31 percent, with Australia third at 30 percent.

Mainstreet's poll surveyed a random sample of 2,497 Albertans on Nov. 12 and 13. A mixture of land lines and cellphones were surveyed. The poll has a margin of error of 1.96 percent, 19 times out of 20. Results are weighed by geography, age and gender, based on the 2011 Canadian Census.