REGINA _ The Saskatchewan government says a significant drop last year in impaired-driving deaths and injuries is the lowest on record with the province’s Crown insurer.

It says preliminary numbers show that 21 people lost their lives in 2019 in impaired-driving collisions compared with an annual average of 54 people between 2009 and 2018.

Injuries also declined to 332 compared with an annual average of 595 over the previous decade.

Joe Hargrave, minister responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, says several efforts have helped change impaired-driving attitudes and behaviours.

Those measures include increased enforcement, stronger legislation with tougher consequences for impaired drivers and awareness campaigns with various organizations.

Hargrave is giving particular credit to drunk-driving victims’ families, who share their stories in the hopes of persuading others to make better choices.

“I truly believe the work those families do whether it’s in an SGI campaign, working as MADD ambassadors or simply by sharing their experience in conversations _ has saved lives,” Hargrave said in a news release Wednesday.

“It’s impossible to hear their stories and not be touched by what they’ve gone through.”

MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie said progress made in lowering Saskatchewan’s historically high impaired-driving rates “is truly inspirational.”

“Through strong laws and sanctions, consistent enforcement and hard-hitting awareness initiatives, Saskatchewan is making great strides in the fight to stop impaired driving, to save lives and to prevent injuries,” he said.

New provincial laws were put in place in 2014, 2017 and 2018, which included vehicle seizures, licence suspensions and steep financial penalties for drunk drivers.

SGI said it has collected data on impaired-driving deaths since 1988. The previous lowest number of fatalities in a single year was 39 in 2017. The previous lowest number of injuries was 360 in 2018.

The provincial government said the data released Wednesday is considered preliminary, based on information available from police forces in Saskatchewan, and may be adjusted based on additional information from the coroner’s office or other sources.

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