V) Alcohol and Other Drug Intervention Programs
A crucial part of Manitoba's impaired driving program is the requirement that drivers who are suspended for drinking and driving infractions must undergo an alcohol/drug assessment that could result in them being referred to an intervention program, which must be completed before they can regain their licences and legally drive again.
The AFM Program
Since 1986, the Addictions Foundation (AFM) has been the agency responsible for conducting Impaired Driver's Program alcohol/drug assessments in Manitoba. The AFM process involves interviews with the suspended drivers and an examination of their driving records to determine whether they have an ongoing alcohol, drug or chemical dependency problem and, if so, what level of intervention is needed to address the problem. Depending upon the needs of the suspended driver the intervention can range from participating in a one-day educational workshop, participating in a three to six month high-risk counselling program, participating in an alcohol/drug rehabilitation program and/or maintaining complete chemical abstinence. Suspended drivers are not permitted to regain their driver's licences until the AFM has certified that there is no ongoing alcohol, drug or chemical dependency problem or that their problem is under control. A recent Health Canada evaluation report on the AFM Impaired Driver's Program indicated that it is very effective in preventing repeat impaired driving offences. Only 18.6% of its suspended driver clients committed another impaired driving offence or received a 24-hour licence suspension within six years of completing the program.
Mandatory Assessment and Treatment
The AFM program is voluntary, in the sense that only suspended impaired drivers who want to regain their driver's licence must go through the program. The reinstatement of the driver's licence is an important motivator for offenders to do well in the intervention program to which they have been referred. In 1999, the Government of Canada amended the Criminal Code to provide that judges could order convicted impaired drivers to undergo mandatory alcohol assessment and treatment as a term of probation if a province officially designates an approved agency for that purpose. The Government of Manitoba has not implemented that provision because of the effectiveness of the voluntary AFM program, concerns about the effectiveness of compulsory treatment and concerns about how a mandatory assessment and treatment program would be funded.
Including mandatory participation in an alcohol assessment and treatment program as a term of probation for all impaired drivers would force them to take the program through the threat of criminal charges for breach of probation. However, the voluntary participation approach of the AFM program has proven to be effective and forcing unwilling impaired drivers to take the program may not result in any positive changes in their behaviour and could be disruptive to the AFM program. AFM statistics over the last 14 years demonstrate that only 30% of offenders assessed have chemical dependency issues, while the remaining 70% had overdrinking issues or risk taking issues (knowing impaired driving is dangerous, but still taking the risk and doing it).
The current AFM program is funded by suspended impaired drivers on a user fee basis and that is consistent with the voluntary nature of the program. It may not be possible to maintain user pay approach for a mandatory program, especially in the case of low income persons, but neither the AFM nor the Government of Manitoba currently have the resources to cover the costs for participants.
Issues for consideration