On the lookout for erratic or impaired drivers throughout the year, police officers know the months of November, December and January can be some of their busiest.
Counterattack roadblocks have been up for weeks, as the Sidney North Saanich RCMP and Central Saanich Police Service try to warn people away from drinking and driving — and catching those who drink and get behind the wheel.
Corporal Erin Fraser of the Sidney North Saanich RCMP says the simple rule people should remember is if they drink, they should not drive.
“Don’t have anything to drink if you are planning to drive,” she said. “People always ask ‘how much can I have?’ My response is always: nothing.”
Don’t drink, she added, and drivers will have nothing to worry about.
Constable Paul Brailey of the Central Saanich Police Service notes that his department has seen a minor drop in the amount of impaired drivers on the road. But that doesn’t mean they are gone altogether.
“In a recent roadblock over an evening, we only stopped one impaired driver,” he said. “That’s pretty good for the 600 vehicles we stopped.”
However, the good record was shattered the next day when two impaired drivers were caught at around 10 a.m. And that raises the importance for people to realize that the later they stay up celebrating, the longer it takes to rid their bodies of the alcohol in their system.
It’s an ongoing focus of the police, said both Fraser and Brailey — looking for possible impaired drivers well into the mid-morning and even afternoon.
“Impaired driving can happen at any point in the day,” Fraser added, noting there are plenty of cases of police catching drunk drivers in the morning after they were out drinking the night before.
The only way for people to become sober, say the officers, is for them to wait it out — time is the only cure for being inebriated.
Not leaving enough time between having a few drinks and then getting behind the wheel can often mean a person is still impaired.
An expensive mistake
Police officers are always on the lookout for erratic and possibly impaired drivers.
Fraser said that police look for almost anything and everything that might indicate someone is driving drunk. Often, they learn of a potential impaired driver after someone else has called police.
Brailey added he thinks people’s attitudes on drinking and driving have changed over his 18 years of service. Having more of an impact, he said, are the steep penalties and fines that drivers face if they are stopped for impaired driving.
If a driver is over .05 mg of alcohol in their bloodstream, Fraser said they will receive an immediate roadside driving suspension for three days and their vehicle is impounded.
A second .05 gets you a seven-day prohibition and your vehicle impounded. A third means a 30-day suspension and further penalties. If a driver blows over that level, things get much worse.
A single .08 mg result hits the criminal code threshold, said Fraser. A driver can be charged with impaired driving, face a 90-day immediate roadside prohibition and their vehicle impounded for 30 days.
The fines for all of this can be hefty. Brailey said it can quickly add up to thousands of dollars — starting with a $55 ticket for blowing over .08, the fines, impound fees and points against your drivers license can soar to up to $4,000. This alone, he continued, is helping contribute to changing attitudes and reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road.
Still out there
Police and local communities are still concerned with impaired driving and it remains a key focus of enforcement for local police officers every day.
“They’re still out there,” said Fraser, noting the RCMP on average in Sidney and North Saanich stop around 80 impaired drivers every year.
People still offer up various excuses — from outright denial to saying they’ve only had “a couple of drinks.”
The best advice Fraser can offer to people at this time of year, or any time if they are going to have a drink or two, is to put the keys away and do not get behind the wheel — call a cab or have a friend do the driving.
Stay safe on the road, says ICBC
Plan ahead, advises Colleen Woodgen, ICBC’s Road Safety Co-ordinator in Victoria.
“Make the best decision when you are going out — get a designated driver, call a taxi, take the bus or have a sober friend or family member do the driving.”
Woodgen said people also need to ask themselves if it’s their turn to be the designated driver, taking a turn to be the responsible one.
Woodgen joined local police in an awareness Counterattack roadblock in Central Saanich this month. She said while attitudes are changing about drinking and driving, there are still too many deaths due to impaired driving.
She said there are around 95 people killed each year (2008-2012 figures). In 1976, the year prior to Counterattack’s creation, Woodgen said the average was around 300 people per year.
Collaborative efforts between ICBC, the police and tougher drinking and driving laws have helped — but she said there’s a still a long way to go to reverse or eliminate a preventable cause of death on our roads.