Ontario’s holiday RIDE program was rolled out last week, marking perhaps the only time most of us don’t dread seeing flashing red lights and being signalled to stop. As much.
With the RIDE program kicking off its 36th year, you’ll know exactly why you’re being pulled over. Officers from forces across southern Ontario teamed up with Police Services students at Humber College’s north campus to kick off the event. The lineup of police rigs was impressive, from huge vans to undercovers to a motorcycle. More than one student did a double take at a hearse casually parked among the emergency vehicles. Subtle? Not a bit.
Some people think the program is an infringement on their rights and there are lawyers who readily agree. Some people flock to Twitter each year to reveal RIDE locations. Are there issues of free speech and due process that could be entertained here? Sure. But most of us, unfortunately, have some kind of personal experience with impaired drivers. My first boyfriend was killed by a drunk driver. I’m extremely biased.
You might be a RIDE check veteran, in which case the types of locations chosen will come as no surprise. Police want a sweeping cross section of drivers on a committed course – cresting a hill, the point of no return on a highway ramp, just past that curve. Evasive actions are not recommended.
Constable Clint Stibbe with Toronto Police Services laughs when asked about drivers determined to avoid the stop.”We see U-turns, but the officers are on it instantly. We see people attempt to back up, but they have to understand they’re outmanned.” You might as well snap on a spotlight over your head.
What if your evasive action isn’t because of impairment, but because you realize your licence is on the counter at home, or you haven’t gotten around to replacing that burned out headlight? “An officer can’t use one Act to get to another one,” explains Stibbe. “The spirit of the RIDE check is to ensure sobriety. That first officer isn’t looking for licence, registration and insurance when you pull up. Can another officer move to the traffic act? Yes. But our priority is impairment.”
This is a careful way of saying that the first officer can’t move into Traffic Act violations. But there are others who can be running plates or doing vehicle checks, and you could be handed off like a baton in a relay race. “The courts are very clear on how we can proceed. Each checkpoint will have a sergeant and maybe 5 officers and the breath tech,” he explains. “You may have me doing the sobriety check, but a different officer may be doing a vehicle check. It’s a separate Act. We also have the units to chase down anyone who tries to dodge the stop.”
The province currently spends $2.4 million annually on RIDE, an amount maintained since it was doubled from $1.2 million in 2007/08. Stops have risen accordingly, from 505,733 in 2007/08 to 1,016,786 in 2011/12. The increase in stops, however, still can’t account for a disturbing trend: last year’s charges were the highest in 8 years. Police laid 693 impaired charges, up from 652 in 2010/11 and 294 in 2009/2010.
Drivers aged 21 and under must have a zero alcohol level regardless of licence grade, and officers may ask for proof of age. Stibbe reminds drivers if they’re the accompanying driver to someone with a G1, their own blood alcohol concentration can’t exceed 0.05%. This is not your designated driver.
A stop may only take 10-15 seconds, but in that time the officer is hitting a mental checklist. According to Stibbe, the tabulation starts immediately. “Blood shot eyes, dilated pupils, odour of alcohol coming from the vicinity of the driver or on the breath, slurred speech, uncoordinated movement, sleepiness, lack of ability to follow simple instructions, admission of consumption (“I only had one”) or another admission of consumption (“it’s been hours”), and yes, passing out.” He notes these may be classic signs of impairment, but he also says that often, “people think they’re covering well. They’re not. We can almost always tell when you’re trying to hide something. “
If your choice of drug won’t trigger the breathalizer, forget it: they won’t hesitate to call in the heavy hitters, officers extensively trained to detect all types of impairment, not just alcohol.
Actions can go from warnings to suspensions based on that breathalizer result and the record of previous offences. Anyone can be asked to take a breathalizer, and registering 0 – 0.049 is considered a pass. Blow between 0.05 and 0.099 roadside, and you will be given a warning. Don’t get excited: you’re still going to have your car impounded for 3 days and your licence suspended for 5. Over 0.099 and you’re looking at criminal charges. They go with 0.099 to allow a margin of error (0.08 is the legal definition of impaired), but more comprehensive testing will take place.
If a passenger is cleared to drive your car in your place you can avoid the impoundment, but they will also be subject to the same checks. It’ll save you money, if nothing else.
But as Stibbe puts it, “why weren’t they driving in the first place?”