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The tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and the hard core drinking driver
  1. E Chamberlain1,
  2. R Solomon2
  1. 1MADD Canada
  2. 2Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6A 3K7, Canada
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor Solomon

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In recent years, the alcohol industry1–5 and certain traffic safety organizations6–9 have tried to draw a sharp distinction between so-called “social drinkers” and “hard core drinking drivers”. We are led to believe that great progress has been made among social drinkers over the last 20 years, and that this extremely large group invariably drinks “moderately” or “responsibly”. In contrast, little progress has been made among the tiny fraction of drivers who make up the hard core drinking driver population. We are urged to “crack down” on this dangerous minority with tougher penalties, particularly for repeat offenders.9 Broader enforcement measures and lower criminal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits are to be avoided, as they would unnecessarily alienate social drinkers.

The hard core and social drinker rhetoric creates a convenient scapegoat for Canada's and, no doubt, other countries' impaired driving problems. By blaming hard core drinking drivers, proponents of these stereotypes allow mainstream “social drinkers” to separate themselves from the impaired driving issue, without ever having to critically assess their own drinking and driving habits. For example, in a 1999 article, the President of the Brewers Association of Canada recommended that legislative measures be focused on the “small minority of drivers” who are the “real cause of the problem”.1 He suggested that “great strides” have been made in reducing impaired driving among the general population, and that “hard core” offenders are the last remaining bulwark of irresponsible drinking and driving habits. The President describes this small minority as “repeat offenders, [who] often continue to drive with a suspended license, and remain indifferent to societal pressures to reform”.

This mischaracterization of the impaired driving problem limits the reform agenda. For instance, Canada's federal government recently ignored calls for sweeping reforms to the impaired driving law in its …

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  • * The 0.08% funding initiative was eventually made law in October 2000.

  • It should be noted that a “standard drink” in Australia contains 10 g of ethyl alcohol, while a “standard drink” in the United States contains 13.6 g of ethyl alcohol. Thus, nine standard drinks in Australia contain approximately the same amount of alcohol as 6.5 standard drinks in the United States. Standard drinks in Canada contain roughly 15 g of ethyl alcohol.

  • Indeed, Canadian statistics indicate that those aged 15–24 have double the rate of crash deaths, and nearly double the rate of crash injuries, as those aged 35–54. Males accounted for 87% of the fatally injured and 89% of the seriously injured drivers. In addition, more than half of the fatally injured 20–24 year olds and 40% of the fatally injured 15–19 year olds had been drinking.

  • # The Traffic Injury Research Foundation estimated in 1997 that 1680 people die in Canada each year as a result of alcohol related crashes. In contrast, Statistics Canada figures indicate that there were 536 homicides in 1999, including all murder, manslaughter, and infanticide cases.

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