Last November the B.C. ministry of justice announced the success of its Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP) program in its first two years. Data was presented to show that 104 lives had been saved as a result of the program (pssg.gov.bc.ca/osmv/ shareddocs/alcohol-related-fatalities%20oct-2010-sept-2012.pdf).
However, an ICBC document (icbc.com/about-ICBC/Newsroom/quick-statistics.pdf) provides more complete information related to traffic fatalities, including statistics on the factors contributing to accidents, and the numbers of injuries and fatalities during this time period. The information calls into question the claims made by the ministry about the numbers of lives saved as a result of the program.
The ICBC document shows, while there was a decrease in alcohol related fatalities in 2011, the first year of the IRP program, there was an increase in the number of "casualty crashes," from 51,000 to 52,000, and an associated increase in injuries, from 76,000 to 78,000.
Note that the ICBC records are listed by calendar year, while the data quoted by the provincial government coincides with the start of the IRP program in October 2010. Despite the three month shift, there is good agreement between the two sets of data.
The ICBC data provides a possible explanation for the apparent contradiction between the drop in fatalities coincident with an increase in casualty crashes and injuries. A table entitled "restraints" shows there was a surprising decrease of 35 fatalities (41 per cent) in 2011 in which the victims were not wearing seat belts. No explanation for a change in behaviour is provided, but the decrease may reflect improved police surveillance. (The drop in fatalities in 2011 is calculated relative to the average of the fatalities for the years 2007 to 2010 listed in the ICBC document.)
Furthermore, the government statement made no mention of the drop in 2011 in fatalities from accidents in which alcohol was not a factor (33 fatalities, 13 per cent). Much of this decline was associated with a decrease in distracted driving following the introduction of restrictions on cellphone use and texting in 2010, the same year the IRP program was established. Presumably the coincident decline in distracted driving fatalities would contribute proportionately to the decline in alcohol related fatalities.
In its announcement, the government also included claims of lives saved in 2012. It referenced "preliminary" data for 2012 provided by the RCMP, and available at pssg.gov.bc.ca/osmv/shareddocs/ alcohol-related-fatalities-oct-2000-sept-2012.pdf.
In fact, the only "information" provided for 2012 is an "estimate" of alcohol related fatalities. No other information, estimated or otherwise, is provided. All other data is listed simply as "N/A."
Without the omitted information, this pseudo-data is so incomplete as to be almost meaningless. Furthermore, this document includes a proviso that "Data for 2012 is preliminary and may change as reports are finalized and police data is reconciled with coroners."
The coroner has not as yet posted data for 2012, and surprisingly the coroner's report of Motor Vehicle Incident Deaths 2002-2011 (pssg.gov.bc.ca/ coroners/publications/docs/stats-motor-vehicle. pdf) specifically omits the data for alcohol-related fatalities in 2011.
At best the ministry's claim of the success of the IRP program is based upon data for a single year, 2011, plus the last three months of 2010. And that limited data appears to have been "cherry picked" to support the ministry message. The claim is not well supported, either by the ICBC data or by data released this week by Statistics Canada showing that in 2011 B.C. recorded the largest increase in impaired driving rates of any province at 15 per cent (statcan. gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11692eng.htm#a13).
Obviously everything reasonable and legal must be done to reduce impaired driving rates. However, the ministry's support of its program is frustrating in that it is misleading, yet difficult to check. Without locating the source materials, the options seem to be blind acceptance or rejection of the statements. Eventually many in the public simply ignore all messages, and that is sad.
Ben Clifford North Vancouver