Thursday, July 18, 2013

Impaired driving and community design

Every so often, I get an email from ICBC asking if I can help them spread the word that drinking and driving is a bad idea, and that they are working will police to increase roadside checks for impaired drivers during the summer.

At its worst, impaired driving results in death. According to ICBC, 31 percent of all crashes are related to impaired driving; 31 percent of all crashes are preventable. If you get caught driving while impaired, the consequences can include losing your licence, getting a fine, and getting your vehicle impounded, and could lead to you being criminally charged. BC’s impaired driving laws are strict, and even having a pint of beer could put you over the legal limit if you have a full class 5 licence. You can’t drink at all if you are in the graduated licensing program.

ICBC recommends using a designated driver, taxi, or transit to get you around after having a drink. If you are hosting an event, ICBC has a free Special Occasion Support Kit they will send you which includes posters, tent cards, and designated driver tickets to help educate people about impaired driving and safe travel options.

ICBC advises against cycling and walking when impaired. It is interesting that ICBC is pro-transit and anti-walking. All transit trips (especially if you’ve been drinking) start with walking to transit, and end by walking to a particular destination after leaving the transit system.

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately is how auto-oriented built environments are bad for human health and society. When it comes to impaired driving, auto-oriented design seems to set people up to make poor choices.

Municipalities approve licensed restaurants, pubs, clubs and bars, and require large parking lots around them. Some of these establishments are also located in areas with poor or no transit service. Since just two drinks could make you an impaired driver under BC laws, does this auto-oriented community design actually encourage impaired driving?

When I’m taking transit home on a Friday or Saturday night, I get off the bus at Fraser Highway and 203rd. There is a club next to that stop. The club itself is smaller than its parking lot. The parking lot is always full on Friday and Saturday nights and usually empty by the next morning. I wonder how many of those people make a choice to drive when they shouldn’t have. Should municipalities require large parking lots at drinking establishment?

I think that one way municipalities can help reduce impaired driving, is to support the location of restaurants, pubs, clubs and bars in walkable centre with frequent transit service. Municipalities might also want to review minimum parking requirement for these establishment and develop design guidelines that give cues that walking, transit, or taxi service is a preferred way to get to and from these establishments.

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