Fewer people died on Saskatchewan roads last year than in any other since 1954.
SGI Minister Joe Hargrave announced the news Thursday while standing in a room with 102 empty chairs representing the number of people who lost their lives on provincial roads in 2017.
He noted this is an improvement on the 125 fatalities in 2016, and the five-year average of 145 deaths per year.
“It’s a great start, but 102 people … if it was my family, or your neighbor, your friends – it’s still too many,” he said.
“It’s really sad for Saskatchewan, it’s something we have to fix. We’ve got to get better and better.”
Hargrave believes the decline in fatal crashes is a positive sign of progress. He pointed to SGI’s push for public awareness campaigns around the dangers of distracted and impaired driving.
According to SGI statistics, the number of fatalities on Saskatchewan roads has gradually been trending down over the past few decades. The worst year for deaths on the roads was 1974, with a total of 306 people killed.
SGI points to improvements in traffic laws, enforcement and even the design of roads and highways all contributing to safer roads overall.
The provincial insurance provider didn’t have a breakdown of the number of those fatal crashes caused by impaired driving available at this point.
People getting the message on impaired driving
Still, Hargrave said he thinks people are starting to get the message about the dangers of drinking and driving.
“People are paying attention, people are asking those questions now before they go out. Before they make those bad decisions,” he said.
“A lot more organizations that are holding functions are thinking about it, they’re arranging for rides for people.”
Hargrave also said he believes the lower number of traffic deaths could point to a generational change.
“I feel a lot of the younger people in this province – that new generation – are thinking more about designated drivers. I mean when I was young, nobody ever thought of that.”
Hargrave said there is still a long way to go to get the number of deaths on the roads down to zero. The government and SGI will not let up on awareness campaigns around seatbelts, distracted and impaired driving.
He said everyone has to take responsibility to prevent drinking and driving and all areas of traffic safety.
SGI preparing for marijuana legalization
With the impending legalization of recreational marijuana, Hargrave said there will be a public awareness campaign coming about the dangers of drug-impaired driving.
In preparation for the law change, SGI is also paying for an additional 60 police officers trained as drug recognition experts.
“That’s what we need to lay the proper charges to people for impaired driving by drugs,” Hargrave said.
“It works – there’s no machine involved in it – but these people are trained to recognize when people are impaired by drugs and the courts recognize it and that’s the important part.”
When it comes to charges, the minister said it doesn’t matter if someone is impaired by alcohol or drugs, it works the same.
“It has to stop because those are the people that are out there and they are causing those innocent deaths,” he said. “A lot of those people who are dying are the truly innocent victims of somebody else’s bad decision and that’s the real sad part.”
—With files from 980 CJME reporter Jessika Guse.