During their annual holiday crackdown on drinking and driving, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) saw a dramatic increase in the number of people charged with impaired driving.
Yesterday, the OPP released statistics compiled for the force's 2011-12 Festive R.I.D.E. (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) program. The results were described as "bothersome news" to the Commissioner of the OPP.
The campaign began on Nov. 25 and ended on New Year's Day. During that time period, 1,203 drivers, believed to be impaired or of having excess alcohol in their system, were nabbed. Of the total, over half of the drivers (652) were charged criminally with the offence of impaired driving. The remaining 551 registered a "warning" when they blew into a roadside screening device and had their driver's licences administratively suspended. A roadside screening device registers a warning if the person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is between .05 and .08.
Most people who are charged with impaired driving, face a second charge. They are either charged with having a BAC exceeding .08 or if they refuse to provide adequate breath samples, they are charged for refusing.
While the number of administrative suspensions decreased from 613 during the same time period last year, to 551, the number of criminal impaired charges more than doubled. During the Festive R.I.D.E. program in 2010-11, only 308 impaired driving charges were laid.
The OPP Commissioner, Chris Lewis, said, On one hand, I am extremely proud of the hard work on the part of our officers who made the campaign highly effective in removing these dangerous drivers from our roads over the holidays. On the other hand, I am disappointed that these drivers would risk their lives and the lives of others.
During 2011, 47 people died as a result of an impaired driver on the roads patrolled by the OPP.
Impaired driving and related drinking and driving offences under the Criminal Code carry mandatory minimum punishments. A person convicted of impaired driving, over 80, or refusing a breath test, is subject to a minimum fine of $600 and a licence prohibition of between one and three years. For a second offence there is a minimum jail term of 14 days and a prohibition of between two and five years. For a third or subsequent offence, the accused must be sentenced to a minimum of 90 days in jail. The minimum driving prohibition is three years but up to a lifetime ban may be imposed.
A person who registers a "warn" must immediately surrender their licence to a police officer. Under Ontario's Highway Traffic Act, they are administratively suspended from driving for three days for a first suspension, seven days for a second, and 30 days for a third or subsequent suspension. Unlike criminal charges, there is no appeal from these administrative suspensions.
The OPP did not keep records of how many stops their officers made during the program. So it is not clear whether the increase in alcohol related driving is due to more people drinking and driving, greater enforcement, or a combination of both.
The OPP is warning the public that even though the R.I.D.E. program is over, they will still be out looking for impaired drivers.