Despite increased education and public awareness campaigns, this year’s OPP holiday RIDE program charged more impaired drivers and issued more suspensions than last year.
“We had hoped to see these numbers decrease significantly during this year’s campaign, in light of how much harder we have worked to educate the public about the dangers of drinking and driving,” said OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis.
“Impaired driving continues to be the leading cause of criminal death in Canada and it is disappointing that we still have Ontario drivers who feel entitled to place other road users at risk of losing their lives to an impaired driver.”
Over the 5-1/2-week campaign that began in late November, OPP officers charged 693 drivers with having a blood-alcohol content of more than 80 milligrams. They also issued 625 suspensions to drivers with a BAC of 50 to 80 milligrams.
During last year’s holiday RIDE campaign, OPP charged 682 impaired drivers and issued 583 suspensions.
To try to drive home the point that drinking and driving is dangerous, irresponsible and illegal, Caledon OPP teamed up with officers from York and Peel regional police to conduct a mega-RIDE on Dec. 28 — the largest ever set up in the GTA.
The idea behind this initiative, led by OPP Sgt. Brian Knowler, was to remind motorists how serious police are about their relentless quest to reduce impaired driving.
Although RIDE spot checks are carried out randomly year-round, the program ramps up for the party season around Christmas and New Year’s. During the holidays, the various police forces across the GTA set up four or five spot checks per shift, with each stopping about 400 vehicles per hour.
I was invited to witness the mega-RIDE, which was conducted at the intersection of Hwy. 50 and Mayfield Rd., just south of Bolton.
Between the three forces, about 30 officers stopped vehicles for two hours on all four approaches to Hwy. 50 and Mayfield.
The officers had roadside breathalyzers they could use if they were suspicious. If a driver blew over 0.05 or exhibited signs of impairment, they were escorted to a police station where more accurate readings could be obtained.
I was stationed on the northbound side of Hwy. 50with York Regional Sgt. Rob O’Quinn and acting-Sgt. Brian Mooring (who tells me he drives a Porsche Carrera 4S). There were eight officers on our section of road, which meant eight drivers were being stopped simultaneously. If all was well, they were soon sent on their way.
On our stretch of road, only one motorist was detained for a breath test in the two hours we were set up. That was well below average but the mega-RIDE was more about public relations and education.
It was carried out between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., when traffic was heavy but before the party and bar crowds hit the streets. The aim was to get the message out to as many drivers as possible, not so much about nabbing law-breakers.
The one motorist who was checked blew 0.03. He was allowed to continue home but he admitted to a new appreciation for how little alcohol it takes to be close to the limit. He told us he has a new respect for drinking responsibly.
I was impressed with how the officers conducted themselves. When they stopped a vehicle, they chatted with the driver and passengers and wished them all a Happy New Year. Equally impressive was the response from the motorists themselves.
I didn’t encounter one driver who was miffed at the long wait or the idea of being stopped. Some even thanked the officers.
One visitor from Illinois told us he had never seen anything like this before.
In all, 5,200 motorists were stopped that night. Thirteen roadside tests were conducted but only one three-day licence suspension was issued (for being close to 0.08). There were also two minor charges under the Highway Traffic Act and 10 drug-related charges.