Need to Challenge Assumptions to Address Drinking and Driving

Chronicle Herald/June 2010 

In the recent May 29th article by Transportation Minister Estabrooks titled "Estabrooks: Number of drinking drivers 'shocking'" and the June 2nd article by Cumberland County RCMP titled "Mounties puzzled by number of impaired drivers" a shared sense of confusion, disappointment and frustration is expressed, concerning the continuing high levels of injury and death related to impaired driving. The crux of the concern seems to be that these high levels of impaired driving continue to exist despite the number of education programs aimed at reducing incidents of drinking and driving. The bottom-line reality is that impaired driving continues to result in devastating motor vehicle crashes that kill and permanently disable Nova Scotians.

The fact that drinking and driving levels are not lower, considering the mass education campaigns and programs that currently exist, creates puzzlement because of two erroneous assumptions: First, the assumption is made that raising personal awareness of the risk of drinking and driving is sufficient by itself to change behavior. For the most part this is untrue according to international peer reviewed studies. Second, the assumption is made that the only "education" provided to our citizens is promoting cautious and responsible drinking behaviours. Considering the very polished marketing campaigns by those selling alcohol, aimed at heightening a connection between alcohol consumption with success and good times, there is certainly another educational pursuit at play.

Educational programs aimed at increasing awareness should be one component in a comprehensive strategy that addresses the accepted culture of over-consuming alcohol. But, it is not the most effective component. Until we seed educational programs into a society that accepts healthy alcohol policies which address taxation, access to alcohol and advertising, the over-consumption of alcohol will continue to be a significant public health burden and we will be left wondering as Mr. Estabrooks did, - "what's going on here?".

Shirley Ann Rogers, Executive Director