Edmonton police showcase new suits that simulate impaired driving

by Clare Clancy

Edmonton police used a novel way to demonstrate how drugs and alcohol influence drivers in an effort to curb the number of collisions expected over the winter holidays.

The "drugged driving suit" uses padding, ankle weights, flashing light goggles and headphones to recreate the conditions of driving after consuming alcohol or illegal drugs. This includes slower reaction time, distorted vision, hand tremors and poor co-ordination.

The suit, showcased at Rogers Place on Monday, is part of a Ford program that teaches safe driving methods. Driving Skills for Life is slated to come to Edmonton high schools sometime next year.

Const. Kathy Nelson said while most people understand the dangers of drinking alcohol and driving, it's important to realize that drugs can be equally as problematic on the road.

"With the potential legalization of marijuana as well as a lot of the prescription drug abuse that's happening, that focus really needs to get to the forefront as well," she said. "Statistically, about 40 to 50 percent of our impaired fatalities in this city have some kind of link to drugs or (are) caused solely by drug impairment."

Police have made more than 1,200 impaired driving arrests in 2016 before Dec. 1. In that time, there have been 24 fatalities and 36 serious injury collisions in Edmonton. Since 2012, impaired drivers have been involved in 35 to 45 percent of fatal collisions.

"Our checkstops run 365 days a year .. the message is really to start changing attitudes," Nelson said, adding that police are preparing to roll out their annual campaign before Christmas. "The people we catch on a daily basis are not the people who are having one drink with dinner and driving home responsibly."

She added that police use standardized sobriety tests and drug recognition evaluations to prove drivers are impaired due to drugs.

"There are no instruments to detect impairment by drugs we use on the street level."

Coun. Bev Esslinger said a 2016 Edmonton traffic culture survey found that 93 percent of respondents felt that drivers impaired due to alcohol were a direct threat to their personal safety. The same was true for 83 percent of respondents in regards to illegal drug use.

"The cost of a taxi is far less than the cost of a lawyer," she said. "Decide before you party how you will get home."