My Thoughts on the New 0.05 BAC Limit Drunk Driving in Alberta

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This has been on my mind for a while and I am hoping that my writing here can maybe change some minds or at least persuade some additional action on the part of law enforcement, legislators, the entertainment industry, and the taxi industry.

Recently, our province enacted Bill 26, which dropped the legal limit for consuming alcohol and driving your vehicle to 0.05 BAC, from the previous limit of 0.08 BAC. Proponents claim that the intent of this bill is not to criminalize the public who has a glass of wine with dinner, and furthermore (appear to) harshly criticize those who oppose such action by calling said people supporters of impaired drivers (ugh!). Let me first make it abundantly clear that I in no way support impaired driving. With that said, I cannot support the enactment of this bill either. I recognize the effort and the good intentions that went into this bill, but it has been pushed through for the sole purpose of this government to look like they are getting tough on impaired drivers. Now for some truths… Lowering the legal limit does not automatically make you tough on impaired drivers; it only makes it more common for a driver to be impaired. These are two very different statements, though they do look very similar on the surface. While statistics may show that “we are catching more impaired drivers” they do not show that more dangerously impaired drivers are being caught.

Let’s analyze this for a moment. By lowering the limit we are spreading our law enforcement thinner by having them cast a wider net to target more drivers. By doing this we are spending more time and resources on dealing with those who before would have been under the limit. Without proportionally increasing the number of resources to the statistical number of people who are now effectively driving impaired (lowering the limit by 0.03 includes a LOT more people in this problem) our law enforcement cannot spend the necessary time tracking down and removing those truly dangerous impaired drivers on the road. Now the proponents of this bill will say that everyone gets caught eventually, so it makes no difference, just more people get caught now. They are correct, partially. Everyone does get caught eventually, but that “eventually” time frame just widened. So if we have a statistical average number of impaired “road trips” before a death is involved, and a statistical average number of days before someone is eventually caught, then we also have a statistical average number of deaths per impaired driver. By widening that time frame we are actually increasing that number of deaths because more dangerous impaired drivers have more time to cause that statistical death. Don’t read too much into the statistics because statistics lie. But they do offer a window into real life data that is collected, the can inform us of trends and they can help us project. They cannot, however, tell us the future and guarantee results. So my very brief analysis above is just to help describe the logic that suggests that lowering the limit could have the opposite effect that is desired.

So you may ask if I don’t support this bill then what do I suggest we do instead. Well my suggestion is simple; the status quo was working but was improperly implemented. Let’s get something straight, the majority of people do not want to criminalize themselves intentionally. Some don’t care enough, but most would do the right thing if given the choice. The problem right now is that the choice is not very well defined. “Do I drive or do I cab?” The statement should really be worded as “My BAC is X, therefore I should Y.” Now it is no longer really a choice, all law abiding citizens follow the directive given, and those that don’t care enough do whatever they want and eventually get caught if they choose poorly too often. By increasing awareness at the individual level, citizens can now act responsibly with some contextual knowledge. Without that contextual knowledge, how can we expect everyone to make the right choice? If I ask you right now is the milk in your fridge expired? You can make an educated guess based on the last time you remember buying milk or looking at the expiry date, but without seeing that date in front of you can can’t make the right choice every time. Nobody wants to drink expired milk, so that’s why the date is included on the container. Without our BAC given to us prior to making our choice, we can never guarantee making the right choice every time. So how do we implement this notion? Well that is truly the most important question, how do we inform everyone at the individual level so that they can make an informed choice. We need a quick, simple, and cost effective way of informing people in the entertainment districts. It’s still a choice, so it should be optional, but easily available to those who want to be informed. I know that I would never step into a vehicle knowingly over the limit (even our new draconian limit). I have to imagine that others would feel the same, because who wants to voluntarily criminalize themselves? To implement this strategy some communication between law enforcement, legislators, and entertainment industry owners must begin. These three parties are those who can solve this problem in a reasonable manner.

Now that informed choice is solved, we need to solve the second half of the equation. When the answer to the choice is “I should not drive” then we need realistic alternatives. Catching a taxi from the Jasper Ave entertainment district to my home in Rutherford is absurdly expensive. A 5 to 10 minute cab ride in Edmonton, at night, with tip is approximately $20 to $25. The distance to my home is going to be around 40 minutes, and I would expect to shell out at least $60 and probably closer to $80 to get home. You want to talk about incentives to drive “impaired” this is the biggest of incentives. If someone has two beers over the course of 4 hours (what would be considered social drinking, NOT consuming to be impaired) then could EASILY be over the 0.05 limit. Do you think someone who was socially drinking would be interested in shelling out $80 to get home, not to mention another $80 to return and get the vehicle! Now I realize that a cab is not the only method of transportation, in fact I love public transit options and I think that the city made a wonderful choice when they proposed the late night transit service (too bad it keeps getting delayed). This certainly helps reduces the burden of cost but it isn’t feasible for the whole city only in concentrated entertainment districts. All this has me come to the conclusion that we require some more incentive to make the right choice. If you make the wrong choice (and you are caught making this wrong choice) then you are punished. But if you make the right choice, while you aren’t quite punished, you are still severely inconvenienced which almost feels like a punishment. I would love to see some positive incentives for those who make the right choice. We need cooperation between taxis, law enforcement, entertainment establishments, and maybe more to help subsidize the cost/burden of making the right choice. If those who are legally impaired have an incentive to make that right choice and maybe save someone’s life, then maybe providing that incentive will help solve this problem from a new angle.

Finally, I wanted to touch on the social media “problem” that is so viciously discussed these days. “Everyone who tweets a check stop is supporting drunk drivers and causing deaths!” I can’t stand it when people oversimplify the twitter issue. If you’ve ever been caught in a check stop line (I mean caught as in traffic wise) then you know that it sucks, a lot. You don’t complain because you know it’s for the good of the community but when you get home you silently complain that it took forever to get home because of the check stop. Now I know that tweeting check stop locations can be used by impaired drivers to circumvent their purpose, but let’s be truly honest here. Anyone who is dangerously impaired (not necessarily legally impaired) is probably not going to find out. This isn’t true for all cases, but in the general case the impaired driver is either not capable (not device to check for them), not motivated (doesn’t care enough to wade through all the anti check stop tweeting), not cognizant (remembering to check), or even not smart enough (to realize that there is in fact a check stop on the way home). When you consider this, really the only people who benefit from the check stop tweeting are people that probably aren’t of interest to the police anyway (or shouldn’t be because they aren’t actually impaired) thus making the check stop more efficient at finding those who are impaired. I would also like to bring up the fact that this was never a problem until the new legislation came into effect. People were more than happy with the 0.08 limit because that meant that 2 drinks over the course of your socializing period was almost certainly under the limit, and for those who were lighter weight one drink was still nothing to worry about. Now, even one drink may be too much. Two drinks is almost certainly over the limit for some. This dramatic shift in what is acceptable and what is not has clearly caused an outrage amongst those who enjoy socializing with a beer or glass of wine. The outrage has spawned a need determined by a few people to help keep the others informed. And I know that most people think that tweeting check stops is just as bad as driving impaired yourself, but I believe that it is a social mechanism to counter what many feel is an invalid restriction imposed on us. I know that in my own case two beers will almost certainly put me over the legal 0.05 limit. I used to enjoy going to the sports bar to watch hockey. I no longer engage in this activity because it is simply not worth the risk. It may sound stupid but I am what would be considered a light weight, my body weight hovers around 140 lbs. My body is very capable of processing two beers, and while by BAC might read 0.05 or 0.06, my impairment is very likely similar to someone else’s 0.03 or 0.04. BAC does not necessary imply impairment (though it is a very good indicator, there are variances). So while I am quite certainly not impaired, a road side test will probably disagree. I simply cannot afford to take such risks and therefore I no longer engage in social drinking without prior dedication of a ride home. The end result is that I far less frequent the sports bars to watch sports and socialize.

So to summarize I want to go over what I have suggested in this (rather long) post. I am suggesting that the new laws may in fact be causing more harm than good, in the form of too many resources wasted on those who are not truly impaired (or dangerously impaired at least). I am suggesting that we need to offer those who make the choices contextual information (what their current BAC is at) so that they can make the informed choice, and most likely the responsible choice. I am suggesting that we need to offer positive incentives to those who make the right choice, help make being responsible something people don’t have to think twice about. And finally, I am suggesting we stop caring so much about tweeting check stops because it simply isn’t informing as many dangerously impaired drivers as you think it might be. Remember dangerously impaired drivers are the people who are causing the majority (if not all) deaths. These are the people who making roads dangerous. These are the people that we don’t want on our roads. Let’s focus more energy on removing these people (either through law enforcement or the incentives I have suggested) and less energy on criminalizing law abiding citizens and clogging up our legal system. I want to make our streets just as safe as all of you Bill 26 proponents do, but we have to focus and target the bigger problems, and we just took a giant step in the wrong direction.

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VOIP on the iPod Touch

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VOIP on the touch was certainly possible back in the days of 1.1.x firmware. You simply had to order a touchmods mic (now apparently called mango mics) and grab the siphon software from Installer or Cydia and you were ready to go. There were even tricks to making free phone calls from your touch to land lines (insanity i tell you). I did this for a bit, until i lost my mic, then i found it again, but discovered that it was useless with the 2.x firmware. Tragic, i know.

Well never fear, now the touch is VOIP enabled once again (and has been since 2.2 came out), and I plan to cash in on this wonderful VOIPy goodness. Here are the deets:

  1. Grab a MacAlley iVoice III
  2. Grab Nimbuzz on your ipod (through the app store)

Here is a decent article on the whole process.


Thoughts on what has happened these past few weeks

Filed in Canada | Local | Market | Mortgage | Real Estate 2 Comments

Just going through some news items that have passed through my feed reader that I found interesting.

  • I found a very interesting video on the Fibonacci Rule (for trading in gold apparently).  I have my doubts on how well this really works, but it’s worth investigating at the very least.  It looks like you need a Market Club account (which i will likely look into soon).  I am skeptical about such “unexplainable” strategies, but there are a lot of things that make no sense when it comes to number theory (take a look at the Golden Ratio).  Long story short, this is a strategy i have never heard of so I would be interested to find out more about it, and how those lines are calculated in the video (honestly, i can’t find any information this anywhere).
  • Here is an Article that lists those responsible (partially at least) for the economic turmoil.  My favorite part is “… and six more who saw it coming” section, which details the smart people who profited from the collapse.
  • For Smith Manoeuvre people, MDJ does a good summary of the Lipson Case.  This is useful since the Lipsons attempted a SM-like tax strategy, however a lot more complex, and apparently completely illegal (though not obviously illegal).
  • A nice article from Chris Davies on the employment stats for Canada as of January 2009.  Interesting to note that Alberta is relatively unaffected by the massive amount of job losses (relative to the other provinces of course).  Saskatchewan also appears to be doing rather well to weather the economic storm.  Chris also does us all a solid by providing his numbers to look at (and maybe doing something with them).
  • Canadian Mortgage News had a great post on the 30 day banker’s acceptance yield, something which i have never heard of.  Seems that variable rates are driven by this yield (which was at 0.90% a few weeks ago).  He mentions the spread (prime – BAY) is high at 2.10% compared to a 10 year average of 1.69%.  While a lower BAY means a higher spread, which usually means lower variable rates, we didn’t see any adjustments yet.  However, the BoC will likely cut interest rates on March 3rd which will translate into minor subtractions from the current prime rate (otherwise the spread gets unreasonably large).  As an added note, while BoC interest rate changes affect variable rates more directly, fixed rates are not really correlated with the prime rate.  Fixed rates are governed by bond rates, as 5 year bond rates go up, you will see fixed rates go down (vice versa applies as well).  Finally, the article lists some mortgage details, and comparing my own numbers it looks like i am getting what i should be, prime + 0.8%.
  • Canadian Capitalist describes in a post that you shouldn’t go out of your way to make use of the HRTC this year.  By that he means that you may have better options, such as mortgage pre-payments or RRSP contributions.  If you have money set aside for a reno project, then now may be a good time to use it, but don’t dip into your other funds just to do home renos for the tax credit.  Personally, i am torn because i don’t have a reno fund, but i do want to convert my newly acquired basement into a rent-able space to generate a new income stream.  To do this, I would have to defer prepayments (and possibly RRSP contributions).  However, the resulting income stream would be very helpful for mortgage payments.  Additionally, owning rented space is a tax deductible expense (utils + maintenance).  I am not entirely certain whether not the conversion expenses can be considered tax deductible though, i will have to enquire about this.
  • Another post on the Canadian Mortgage News blog, this time about the benefits of variable vs fixed rate mortgages.  Most people know that more often than not (in fact 77%-90% of the time) variable is better than fixed.  However, it is noted in the article that this may be one of those rare times where fixed is actually better (you know, that 10%-23%).  Honestly I think that the article has substantial truth.  So why am I still going with a variable rate?  Well the answer is that in recent years, it has become much easier to estimate when the BoC will raise the rates.  So i am best off to hang on to the variable rate (in case the rates drop, which they most likely will on march 3rd) and when economists suspect the BoC to raise rates, i will lock into a long fixed term.  Additionally, 5 year bond rates are quite low these days so waiting for the rates to raise before comitting means that I might be able to lock into a fixed term at an even lower rate than today.
  • A local post from the Edmonton Real Estate Blog on the weekly update last week shows that I have chosen a good time to buy (for the short time span analyzed).  Edmonton real estate numbers have returned to relatively normal numbers (whether or not this is sustainable who knows), and to make matters better the (inflated in my opinion) condo prices have dropped, while SFH prices are on the rise.
  • MDJ had a cool post on getting HDTV for free!  This interests me because i currently do not have a cable package.  However, since we don’t live near the US (where the digital channel OTA switch is happening right away) I will likely not receive anything.  But in the future, when Canada finally switches over there is a good chance that free HDTV is better quality that paid HDTV.  The catch is that you don’t get all the channels.
  • MDJ explains that QuickTax now lets you build your tax return for free, and then once you decide to file with QuickTax you are charged.  This is handy as you can see whether or not QuickTax is any good first before committing to purchase it.  I will definitely be trying this out in the coming weeks/months.
  • more from MDJ (i like his blog ok???), where Ed Rempel describes how to use this recession to your advantage.  Through a nice chart capturing 183 years of US stock market history, we can visualize why the stock market is a good long term investment.  Additionally, it is pointed out that even in some of the most dire market conditions (the recessions and the depressions) the market tends to bounce back quite rapidly.  Will we see a quick (by quick i mean 2 to 3 years) bounce back to high annual gains?  History says yes we will!
  • Canadian Mortgage News explains why waiting for better fixed rates makes no sense in this market.  If you refuse to make use of variable rate mortgages, then you might as well commit to the current rates available for fixed terms.  Contact a broker and have them hold a rate for you, you don’t have to use that rate, but you can if rates go up.  If they go down, you get a new guaranteed rate from your broker.  Honestly, I do think fixed rates will go down a little but not significantly, so unless you have time to waste while you look for your house, i suggest at least reserving a rate for yourself before March 3rd.
  • Finally, to further the previous article, CMN posts an article link that helps explain how fixed rates are calculated by the lenders (PDF).  Worth a read if you are interested.