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Osoyoos well behaved as police check for drunk drivers
It’s past nightfall on Friday night and the Osoyoos RCMP have set up a checkstop on Main Street on the east side of the bridge.
Several events are taking place in Osoyoos over the weekend and police are on the lookout, especially for impaired drivers.
I’ve been invited along as Sgt. Kevin Schur, detachment commander, does a patrol and also takes part in the checkstop.
Schur often works behind a desk, but on Friday the RCMP have brought in extra personnel to do what they call an “enhanced enforcement initiative.”
They’re making the police presence more visible with ATV patrols at the town beaches and parks and the checkstop on Main Street.
The location on Main Street is hard for drivers to avoid as it’s the only way to get from one side of Osoyoos Lake to the other.
The police aren’t using their red and blue flashing lights, which might tip off a drunk driver. So by the time drivers reach the checkstop, it’s too late to turn around.
There’s a wine conference taking place at Spirit Ridge and many drivers are here for the Cactus Jalopies Show and Shine event and are cruising the town in their classic cars.
But drivers appear to be polite and well behaved when police ask to see their licences or ask questions.
It’s been 30 years since I did a police ride along and story on impaired driving in a community outside Edmonton. That time, I watched as police made several arrests of drunk drivers, ticketed people with open beer in their cars and brought one man to the detachment where he blew three times the legal limit.
Attitudes about drunk driving have changed profoundly over the years.
“It used to be sort of accepted behaviour,” says Schur. “I think it’s better now because socially it’s not acceptable anymore.”
Another big change is recent B.C. provincial legislation that allows police to issue a driving prohibition and impound the vehicle on the spot without the need to lay criminal charges.
That law is currently being challenged at the B.C. Court of Appeals.
Civil libertarians don’t like it because it does away with the presumption of innocence and imposes severe penalties without an opportunity for the accused to appear in court.
Police, however, like the law because it greatly reduces the time an officer would have to spend to convict an impaired driver under the Criminal Code of Canada.
On average, an officer is tied up for five hours on paperwork for a Criminal Code conviction when he or she could instead be out on patrol, Schur points out.
There’s an advantage too for impaired drivers caught under the provincial law. Although the incident is recorded by police and appears on the person’s driving record, they don’t receive a criminal record, which can last a lifetime and impede future employment or travel.
This provides a second chance to the person who makes one bad mistake, says Schur, noting that police can still choose to lay charges under the Criminal Code and they often do for repeat offenders.
Under the provincial law, if a person’s blood alcohol content is between 0.05 and 0.08 – indicated by a “warn” on a roadside screening device – police can issue an on-the-spot driving prohibition ranging from three to 30 days depending on whether it is a first or subsequent offence.
The vehicle is impounded and there are also costly fees and financial penalties.
A driver whose blood alcohol content exceeds 0.08, a “fail” on the screening device, faces a 90-day driving prohibition, 30-day vehicle impoundment and severe financial penalties including possible expenses for a responsible driver program and installation of an ignition interlocking device in the vehicle.
Criminal charges are also possible.
At the checkstop, all drivers are waved through after a brief conversation with police.
As a citizen, I’m greatly relieved that Osoyoos has so many responsible drivers. As a reporter, I’m wondering if I’ll have anything to write about.
Then I see Schur motion a driver in a pickup truck with an Alberta plate to pull off the road. Schur speaks some more with the driver and then fetches a case containing a roadside screening device from one of the police cruisers.
“Have you ever blown into one of these before?” I hear Schur ask, though I’m standing back trying to stay out of the way. The man blows into the device.
Soon after, he lets the man drive off, and I ask Schur what happened.
Police normally are tipped off to impaired drivers by erratic driving, but this isn’t usually possible when drivers are lined up at a checkstop, he explains.
So police observe the driver’s motions and check for any odour of alcohol. If they smell alcohol, or if the person admits to having consumed any, police will typically get them to blow into the screening device.
This man admitted to having one beer a half hour earlier, so he was checked just in case. He was a large man, and body mass has a major effect on the amount a person can drink before being impaired. His reading was 0.01 – well within the legal limit.
“So he probably did just have one beer?” I ask Schur.
“Yes, and he probably had it about half an hour ago,” Schur says, suggesting the man was being completely honest.
The checkstop wraps up and Schur continues patrolling the streets, checking around some of the bars and beach areas where problems sometimes occur.
He tells me a few horror stories he’s experienced with drunk drivers.
“You can get some seasoned drinkers that are drunk all the time and blow over 200 mg,” says Schur. “You can’t smell alcohol and they’re fine to talk to, but you do a screening device and they fail it and it melts in your hand.”
Although such people learn to control their speech and movements, they are still seriously impaired and their reflexes and reaction times are affected.
Over his career, Schur has attended a number of accidents caused by drunk drivers. He’s had to perform CPR on victims and he has been to fatal accidents.
He recalls a severely impaired woman driving a minivan with three of her own children and two others that she was babysitting. The woman shoplifted and assaulted store security while drunk, but thankfully police got to her before she could get into an accident with the children.
“That one stuck with me because she had all these little kids,” said Schur. “It was just terrible.”
Another time, an oncoming drunk driver swung out in front of him, slamming into a power pole and causing permanent brain damage to the driver’s best friend.
Schur had seen the man earlier that night and warned him not to drive. After the accident, the driver tried to claim his brain-damaged friend had been driving.
“Some people don’t care,” he said. “They just care about themselves. They weren’t just a little drunk. They were falling down drunk.”
Most people limit their drinking, but there’s another group of people that thinks drinking doesn’t affect them, said Schur.
“They’re in denial,” he said. They make excuses that they’re OK. Those are the dangerous people.”
It turns out to be a quiet night in Osoyoos and police don’t make any impaired driving arrests. They’ve checked more than 100 vehicles and there are no problems. It can be worse during the summer, Schur tells me, when some people come to Osoyoos and think they’re in Las Vegas, drinking in the streets and smashing bottles and engaging in antisocial behaviour.
But police have been reaching out to hotel and bar owners and now they receive tips about troublemakers before problems can escalate.
“We can’t be everywhere and it wouldn’t work anyways,” Schur said, suggesting that people change their behaviour when they see the police.
“We’re pretty dialed in because people tell us,” he adds, suggesting the connections police make with the community help to keep crime under control.
Friday night’s enforcement blitz may not have led to any arrests, but police showed their presence, and that in itself could make some would-be offenders think twice before stepping behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.
BY RICHARD McGUIRE