Hay River and Yellowknife have been chosen as locations to pilot the NWT Department of Transportation’s Alcohol Interlock Ignition Program.
Northerners convicted of impaired driving under the Criminal Code of Canada are eligible to participate in the volunteer program, which would shorten their driving prohibition.
The device screens a driver’s breath for traces of alcohol and, if it exceeds a pre-determined limit, the vehicle will not start. The mechanism is similar to a breathalyzer and is installed in a vehicle’s dashboard.
The devices will be adapted to northern climates and will be equipped with an emergency override, allowing a vehicle to start in the event of an emergency.
Participation in the program is contingent on approval from Michael Conway, the registrar of motor vehicles with the Department of Transportation.
If the registrar approves an application, a participant may have the device installed in a vehicle at a cost of $125 per month. Additional installation and removal fees can be in the hundreds of dollars.
Conway said Hay River was chosen because of its proximity to other communities, such as Enterprise, and for its large business base.
“This will allow Alcohol Countermeasure Systems (the manufacturer providing the devices) to contract with a local company to provide services,” he said.
Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard inquired about the program at the Legislative Assembly on March 7 and questioned whether the department had done enough research on it.
“Have we re-introduced or re-created the program?” he asked. “I know some of the issues that the department had in the past. They have basically created their own system and then we found out there were flaws because we never looked at other jurisdictions.”
Transportation Minister David Ramsay replied that he had indeed consulted with other communities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“In other jurisdictions, they have seen reductions in impaired driving by 50 to 90 per cent,” he said. “We are very hopeful that, once the program is put into place here in the NWT, we will see a reduction in impaired driving here as well.”
The pilot program should be implemented in Hay River within three to six months, according to Ramsay.
The NWT will be joining almost all other Canadian provinces and territories in administering interlock programs, with Nunavut being the only exception.
Hay River RCMP Sgt. Chad Orr said the program is a good tool for people who need their vehicles to get to work, but it’s important to remember one thing above all.
“The smartest thing to do is not to drink and drive in the first place,” he said. “You need to have a plan: call a cab or have a sober driver. There’s no reason to ever drink and drive.”
Orr said that, based on statistics from the previous two years, approximately 40 drivers are charged with impaired driving in Hay River each year.
So far in 2013, seven have already been charged.
According to Statistics Canada, the NWT and Yukon had the highest rates of impaired driving in the country in 2012.
Ninety-four NWT residents were convicted of impaired driving last year, according to Ramsay’s statement at the Legislative Assembly.
— Myles Dolphin