Programs for Impaired Drivers in Alberta

AMA has delivered the Alberta Impaired Drivers Program (AIDP) on behalf of Alberta Transportation since 1985. The goal of the court-ordered alcohol treatment program is to create safer Alberta roads by helping motorists separate drinking from driving altogether.

Drinking & Driving Affects Everyone

Mick Jones manages the AIDP Program for AMA, and has worked in addictions since 1995, he’s counselled people from all walks of life – young, old, blue-collar workers and white-collar professionals. “There is no such thing as a stereotypical drinker,” he says. “They’re social drinkers who can’t manage to keep drinking and driving separate.”

There are many factors that play into the physiological effects of alcohol and drugs. “Alcohol affects the part of the brain responsible for reasoning,” Jones says. Different intolerance levels, metabolism and even gender — as one in five impaired drivers are women — all lead to misunderstandings about how much alcohol is too much. “There’s no safe amount of alcohol or drugs (over-the-counter, prescription or illegal) you can ingest and be 100 per cent sure you’re not affected.” Lack of sleep, fatigue and stress impair judgment and ability to drive responsibly as well.

In 2014 alone, over 5,500 Alberta motorists convicted of impaired driving offences attend one or more of the three mandatory courses: Planning Ahead, IMPACT and Crossroads. The severity of the offence, blood alcohol, and repeat behaviour all help determine the right class for each driver.

The Crossroads Course

People caught for a second time with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) between 0.05 and less than 0.08 must attend Crossroads, among facing several other penalties including a 15-day licence suspension and seven-day vehicle seizure. At the start of the course, many participants share similar experiences about how they ended up in the classroom. “It’s many of the same stories about how they were unlucky, helping a friend, didn’t have a choice or it’s the first time they’ve driven impaired,” says Jones. “This only reinforces the underlying themes of the program – bad choices and the need to have an action plan when drinking.”

By the end of the half-day course, participants should learn how alcohol and drugs impair their driving skills, and come to fully grasp the risks of driving impaired.

The Planning Ahead Course

Not all who drive impaired are alcoholics, but those who are repeatedly convicted tend to engage in risky behaviours and lifestyle choices. Getting to the root of these problems and understanding the effects of alcohol and drugs on driving ability is the goal of the one-day Planning Ahead Course for those convicted for the first time of driving with a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08.

It’s a peer learning environment where participants actively engage in group sessions. Without judgement, participants share their personal experiences with alcohol and drugs and explain what led them to get behind the wheel while they were drunk. “We ask a lot of questions that are very pointed, very challenging. We ask if this was the first time they have driven impaired. How many times have they done it and not been caught?”

Sadly, many AIDP participants admit that they’ve driven impaired dozens (if not hundreds) of times before being caught.

For many Planning Ahead participants, it’s the first time they’ve connected the dots and realized they may have a problem separating drinking or drugs from driving. In class, they collaborate on ideas and make a plan to change their behaviour, which can be as simple as committing to leaving their vehicle at home, and take public transit or a taxi instead.

The Impact Course

For some, actually making changes to behaviour may be more difficult. Drivers with a third offence above 0.05 or a second above 0.08 BAC take the IMPACT course, an intensive drug-use assessment and pre-treatment course at a secluded location. It’s an opportunity for participants to make some serious lifestyle decisions. At this stage, participants may have a severe problem with alcohol and drugs and counselling is needed.

Over the course of three days, participants start to understand the impact of their actions and how they create the situations they find themselves in. Through small group sessions with experienced addictions counsellors, social workers or psychologists, IMPACT really gets to an individual’s relationship with alcohol or drugs.

What You Should Know

  • Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol found in 100 millilitres of blood. In Alberta, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level exceeding 50 milligrams, or 0.05 BAC.
  • AMA recommends not drinking at all before driving. Remember, impairment begins with the first drink.
  • If you think paying for a taxi ride home is a waste of money, consider the additional costs of driving if you are stopped and then found driving over the limit.
  • Plan for a ride home if you’re heading out for drinks. Find a designated driver service in your community.
  • No matter where you are in Canada, you don’t need to know the phone number for a taxi. Dial #TAXI and you’ll be connected with the next available company line that’s free.

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