Drinking and Driving is Alive and Well in my Town Anyway

This is an article I wrote right after starting my blog way back in 2017, but the pictures are from last week. I wanted to wait to publish it until more people would be likely to see it. I’ve updated it a bit but this is where my head was then and it’s not much different now!

Hubbards, Nova Scotia it’s time we had a chat about your drinking, well about your drinking and driving really. I know that I probably don’t know the full extent of your problem but I know enough to understand that you do have a problem! I see the cans and bottles you hope I won’t, the ones you throw out the window, probably not all of them. Some do end up hidden under trees like you hoped but I know what’s going on behind closed car doors. But this is your intervention and runners and walkers I have a call to action for you, so stay tuned!

237 Alcohol empties picked up over 5 kilometers on one side of the road!

The reason I’m picking on this town is because well this town is my town. I often sneak a run in between students and let me tell you no where is any different! The place the HRM police set up a roadblock on what used to be the Kearney Lake Road, absolutely littered. Waverley Road and Rocky Lake Drive are the same. This has bothered me for years since I friend of mine and I got turned around in the woods walking behind my mom’s in high school. We knew we’d eventually come to the 103, a notoriously dangerous provincial highway and we did. We walked it for a kilometer before coming to a place to get off. The ditches were littered with empties there too. Keith’s, Budweiser and quart bottles.

So this past weekend after a summer when we were all told to stay the blazes home this is what I found. I walked my favorite running route in my big old steel toed rubber boots and picked up every alcohol empty I saw on the side of the road facing traffic along the way. I went back with the truck to pick up all those filled bags and during the pandemic I would say there were fewer than usual. In 5 km I found 237 empty alcohol containers almost 50 per km of the road. Interestingly right now my little town has a street safety campaign started and they want to get sidewalks installed. I think if we want to make our roads safer our drinking and driving would be a much better place to start! The next day I went out and ran the same route and 24 hours later there were 12 new ones. I found lots of beer cans yes, but also 3 wine bottles, 8 pints and even one empty quart of vodka. THIS IS NOT OKAY!

We love to say drinking and driving used to be socially acceptable but now it’s not, that’s bull $hit! Interlock devices have been available since 1985 and as far as I can tell not one jurisdiction has made them mandatory. Even when they are installed by a court order we’ve all heard the stories of having someone else sober blow into one so a drunk can keep driving. So they’re not fool proof, emphasis on fools. Norway and Volvo have toyed with the idea of making them universal and embedded in the steering wheel but nothing concrete yet. In North America we have ‘legal limits’ but in most European countries that limit is 0 for the driver. Interestingly in some it’s also 0 for front seat passengers. And yes empties in ditches are only the tip of the drinking and driving iceberg but it’s where I’m starting. The technology has existed for 35 years to do away with this problem once and for all to say nothing of enforcement!

Ditch throwers are just the tip of the iceberg, Edited wiki commons image

I do get that it’s just a small yet visible part of the drinking and driving problem. Lots of people are leaving restaurants and bars after having a few and are probably over the limit and probably not throwing anything into the ditch. Lots more are leaving get togethers and dinner parties at private homes over the limit and not contributing to the ditch problem. Personally I think this is the biggest demographic and the home drinkers out number the ditch throwers by A LOT. Most of the people drinking and driving aren’t leaving anything behind to see unless it’s a wreck. Let’s say half of the bottles thrown into ditches aren’t visible because they land in an inconspicuous spot under growth, are carried by the water to an invisible rest in a culvert, or are picked up by a local bottle guy or home owner. Sure, some of those empties are thrown by walkers or passengers, but we all know that’s not really the problem here.

Now let me tell you about our town. The population is about 8200 over a 20 km radius including the areas it services. Well over 90%+ of the drivers I see when I’m running are in the car alone. There really isn’t much to walk to, the gas station, grocery store and hardware store are all in the same parking lot, there is no public transportation. Other than one lady in the greater area people don’t walk to get places, it’s too far. Are sober drivers letting their passengers consume open alcohol and throw the evidence out the window? Unlikely. This route that I run includes 3km on a local back road and a little less than 2k is on the main road. There was no difference in the number of bottles I saw on either road. If you stay in your car you rarely notice them but they are everywhere! PS my town does a full ditch cleanup for Earth Day every year, even in 2020!

So I’ve finally decided to do something about it now. Why now you might ask?  Well here it is. I received word this week (in 2017) that an acquaintance of ours, friends of friends that tend to show up when we visit had a fight after leaving a downtown bar this Monday. He went somewhere and she hopped into her great big truck got on that same dangerous 103 highway and sped home. She rolled so many times that the police estimated she was going at least 40 km/hr over the posted 110 km/hr speed limit. Since meeting them last year each of the handful of times I’ve seen these two they were on the fast track to exactly this moment. Both were over the limit, usually one of them by a lot and not planning on staying the night when we left. They are both in their 50’s and successful. I’m tiered of hearing  “I’m DD tonight so I’m just having two” (home poured glasses), or “we’ve been here for a while, sure I’ll have one more” by similar folk. PS I don’t think these are the ditch throwers either. This kind of stuff goes on everyday, every week and every year. I don’t know how you can look at this and still say “drinking and driving isn’t like it used to be” and that should upset everyone!

Except that it sort of is my business. I run, bike and hell, drive on these same roads. People I care about and depend on are on these roads too, generally in cars though. Even if one never gets me I’m sure that most their victims are nice, loved people that someone depends on too. I don’t even wish the injuries and trauma of a car accident on drunk drivers if they only hurt themselves. In 2018 approximately 64 000 Canadians were injured or killed in impaired crashes. That number doesn’t count the crashes where people walked away or those that never had an accident in the first place. We all know, and this is evidence, that if you drink and drive now there is still only a very small chance you’ll be caught. Most people aren’t just doing it once either! Between technology and enforcement we already have the tools to do something about this. So why aren’t we?

No matter where in our city and province I run, and I do, it’s always the same. So here’s what I’m doing about it. Here is a collaged picture of every alcohol empty I saw on my last run, it was only a 5k!

237 alcohol empties including lots of cans, 3 wine bottles, 8 pints and a quart in 5km in Hubbards.

And here is my call to action. Do the same! Next run or walk take a picture of all the alcohol empties you see. Post them on your social and or post them here. If you need help making a collage, reach out I’ll help! #drinkinganddrivinginmytown. There is absolutely no truth to the idea that drinking and driving is a thing of the past and here’s the evidence. As shocking as 50 empties per km is on one side of the road, this is just the tip of the drinking and driving iceberg!

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