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Police step up impaired driving checks
It’s Friday evening and police have set up a traffic check at the intersection of 89 Street and Kingfisher Drive to intercept impaired drivers.
This kind of enforcement is stepped up during the holiday season when drinking and partying tends to increase, says Sgt. Kevin Schur, commanding officer at the Osoyoos RCMP.
Two officers participating in the check, Const. Brad Chaput and Const. Ian MacNeil, are just short of a milestone in the effort to combat impaired driving.
Both are just one impaired driver away from being nominated to Alexa’s Team, an honour given to any B.C. police officer who removes 12 impaired drivers from the road during a calendar year.
The team is named after Alexa Middelaer, a four-year-old girl killed by an impaired driver while feeding a horse at the side of a road with her aunt in 2008.
The police invited the Osoyoos Times along to watch and photograph the traffic stop.
I ride with Chaput, who is six years into his first posting in Osoyoos.
We arrive at the location of the traffic stop, but before we’re even set up, Chaput notices a driver with no headlights – just his running lights.
This, he says, is often a tipoff to an impaired driver.
Chuput flips on the emergency lights and pulls over the driver. The driver says the lights must be the result of work done by his mechanic and he admits to having had a couple drinks earlier that evening.
Chaput asks him to step out of the vehicle and provide a breath sample in his portable device. The man complies and sure enough the device indicates a low amount of alcohol in his blood, well below the “warn” reading. The man is free to go.
The device gives a “warn” reading if it detects more than 0.05 mg/100ml of alcohol in the blood, but less than 0.08.
A “warn” reading is below the threshold to charge a person under the Criminal Code of Canada, but under B.C. laws it is sufficient for police to seize a driver’s license and issue an immediate roadside driving prohibition ranging from three to 30 days depending on whether the driver has been caught before.
The vehicle may also be impounded. When the costs of towing, impoundment, administrative penalty and license reinstatement are totaled, a “warn” reading can cost a driver between $600 and $1,330.
At the check stop, police now are stopping all vehicles coming to the intersection from three directions.
Typically, they ask to see a driver’s license and sometimes vehicle registration before sending drivers on their way. Sometimes they point out that a driver’s registration sticker is about to expire. Most of the interactions are short and friendly.
Summer is also a busy time for catching impaired drivers, but many of those people are vacationers from out of town.
At Christmas time, those caught tend to be locals or visiting family members, Schur says.
Chaput pulls over a car heading northbound on 89 Street. He suspects the driver, a woman, may be impaired.
With some difficulty, he gets her to blow into the screening device. It shows a “fail.”
The B.C. law that allows for immediate roadside prohibitions requires that a second test also be given using another device. The lower of the two tests is the one that is counted. This ensures that a driver won’t be penalized if equipment is faulty or wrongly calibrated.
The woman also fails the second test.
Chaput shows her the consequences, which are severe.
She will be immediately prohibited from driving for 90 days and her car will be impounded for 30 days. When costs are added up, she’ll be out of pocket about $1,430.
And that doesn’t take into account costs resulting from not having a vehicle or the increase in her insurance premiums.
Police typically use this provincial law, which greatly reduces the amount of time officers must spend dealing with an impaired driver, says Schur. That’s because the prohibition is immediate and no court appearances are required. Drivers don’t get a criminal record.
Second-time offenders aren’t so lucky and police will be laying charges under the criminal code. This results in a court appearance and offenders face a criminal record for the rest of their lives.
A criminal record makes a person ineligible for many types of employment and can make it impossible to travel abroad, even to the United States.
The woman is allowed to sit in the back of the police cruiser to stay warm as Chaput completes volumes of paperwork. Outside, other officers continue to pull over other drivers. The woman looks mortified by the experience.
Finally she is released without her car keys or driver’s license.
Although she is offered a ride, she chooses to walk home, which the police will allow if it doesn’t put the person in danger.
Within minutes, tow truck operator Laurence Usher arrives and hooks up the woman’s car. It is towed away for impoundment and she’ll pay the towing and impoundment fees.
There’s no need for people to go through this experience, says Schur. It just takes a bit of pre-planning if you intend to drink.
Osoyoos is a small town, and cabs are limited, but people can arrange to have a sober driver if the distance is too far to walk.
Schur believes many people have gotten the message.
“I remember 20 years ago there was a lot more drinking and driving, definitely at the holiday time,” he says. “There were a lot more people arrested for drinking and driving and there were more accidents involving alcohol than there are now.”
By removing the impaired woman from the road, Chaput now qualifies for Alexa’s Team.
Later that evening, police nabbed two more impaired drivers. MacNeil was involved in one of those cases, so he too now qualifies for Alexa’s Team.
But just because those two officers have met their goals, don’t expect police traffic checks to let up this holiday season.
Osoyoos RCMP will be out to the extent that their resources allow, Schur says.
And chances are, sooner or later, drivers can expect to be stopped, he adds.