Not all impaired drivers are the same. There are unique circumstances that lead unique individuals to make bad choices.

It has been reported that a 19-year-veteran of the London City Police was convicted of impaired driving following  tests of her breath registering readings of 0.2 and 0.21, which are well over 2 times the legal limit. As an investigator with the major crimes unit the officer would have dealt with crime, criminals and bad choices on a daily basis. So why would such a seasoned member of the police become involved in such a senseless act.

Unreasonable expectations that police officers must be perfect at every occasion lead to unreasonably harsh judgments when that unattainable threshold has not been met.

There could be many reasons and those reasons could be complex.  Stress, personality disorders, financial crisis and addiction are only some of the influences and causes of impaired driving. Those factors could envelope the life a police officer no less than any other person. For police officers it is not too difficult to recognize that the stress of the job could be an influencing or causal factor. But equally many of us have stressful jobs and could equally be affected.

In recent years an executioner mentality has evolved where some have developed the belief that trials and rights are a waste of time. When charged, these impaired drivers are obviously guilty and should be thrown in jail for a long, long time. When the results of an impaired driving incident become catastrophic expressions of anger and wanting of vengeance have prevailed. Patience, tolerance and a willingness to dig deeper have been replaced by impatience, intolerance and a quickness to judgment.

Yet the appearance of the individual seems to matter. The same crime caused by a prominent politician, police officer or other respected member of the community does not elicit the same response as the ragged, dirty and poor individual with no meaningful employment.

A recently completed trial demonstrates the complexity of impaired driving incidents. On December 3, 2011 To Ha Phan was driving on Highway 401 near Islington Ave in Toronto, Ontario when he struck and killed a pedestrian. He was charged with impaired driving causing death. However the young female pedestrian was also drunk. Yet the story is more complicated. She had been in a taxi when she reportedly needed to relieve herself and she insisted on exiting the taxi. The taxi driver reportedly called 911 and then left the scene. He left the female pedestrian on the highway rather than driving her to an exit of the Highway where she might  be safer until emergency personnel arrived. The scenario was even more complicated as the deceased had been at an office party and her co-workers, recognizing she was impaired, placed her in the taxi so she could get safely home. The trial judge determined that the impairment charge to Phan should be successful however he determined that Phan did not cause the pedestrian’s death due to the unpredictable actions of the pedestrian on the expressway. So who was at fault? Were there multiple persons at fault? Was the restaurant where the pedestrian was served her alcohol at fault? Was the employer at fault for organizing the office party? Were the co-workers at fault? Was the Taxi driver at fault? Was the pedestrian herself at fault? Some might have the opinion that the matter is straight forward. To a select few everything is obvious and straightforward.

A key item that is missing in these judgments is a detailed history of the individual. How has that person behaved in the past and how that compares to the offence that has taken place. In some instances it could be as simple as an innocent drink or two among friends where alcohol dulls a person’s judgment. A normally reliable person who has had a stressful day suddenly takes more alcohol than he or she is accustomed to taking. Suddenly that person is no longer reliable and makes crucial judgment errors that they would not normally make. Is that possible? While it may not describe the scenario for a large number of impaired drivers it may be an explanation for some. It would be a good approach to understand what that specific person’s history is before grouping him or her with others. Again, what is important are the details. The history of the individual’s character and what led them to the actions that took place.

Whatever happened with the convicted police officer needs to be judged equally, in the same context as any other individual is judged, but most importantly, fairly. Whether a priest, beggar, alcoholic or politician. Regardless of who the person is or what the person does. That approach is not easy to attain and maintain especially when the impaired driver’s actions become personal. Yet anger and vengeance, much like alcohol, only cloud the mind, and prevent a person from making good decisions.

Vengeance is candy, and dandy as liquor, but there’s no human vice that causes wrong any quicker.