Between 1999 and 2009, a total of 13,174 people were killed in traffic crashes involving alcohol or drugs in Canada, along with 777,000 injuries and damage to more than 2.5 million vehicles.
The issue of impaired driving is a crucial one, and Moose Jaw police are working overtime during the Christmas season to keep dangerous drivers off the road.
“We’re always looking, but we know we have to push it with stop checks, to have high visibility during the holiday season,” Sgt. Cliff Froehlich of the Moose Jaw Police Service told the Times-Herald this week.
Operation Overdrive is an impaired driving implementation between SGI, municipal police services and the RCMP, intended to curb impaired driving as much as possible during the entire year, but especially during the holiday season.
“This year alone, 33 impaired drivers were charged through the Overdrive program,” Froehlich said, who added that he believes impaired driving remains an ongoing struggle.
“With my personal experience it's not getting better," he said, "because it's a busier place, with more work, more money and people will always be looking for ways to spend it. But we're always out there, letting the public know. Where would we be if we didn't strive to make these efforts?”
Froehlich said members of Vanier Collegiate's Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) will be coming along for some of the stop checks this season. Police had three weekends booked before Christmas and will be continuing right into the new year.
“It's a misconception (that) we need a reason to pull a driver over,” Froehlich said. “An officer may pull you over at any time for a routine check for a valid driver's licence and registration. If we detect the scent of alcohol, we talk to them, ask where they're coming from. If we find they're not being honest, we have a simple conversation. It usually gives a clue because they won't give a simple answer.”
He said it all comes down to looking for the clues: “We watch to see if they're unsteady, have slurred speech or glossy eyes. Too many people still say to themselves, ‘I've had one drink, I’m OK.’ With these signs, we'll then issue an Approved Screening Device (ASD) to determine the level of consumption, even if there was no driving offence committed.”
The ASD purges and cleans itself. A new mouthpiece is attached; users must keep a steady flow of breath until told to stop. Froehlich showed Times-Herald staff the onboard vehicle equipment used by officers during road checks.
“Cameras are also an asset in gathering evidence," he said. "Our vehicle cameras record outside the vehicle and inside and (also) record audio. We’re constantly recording to gather evidence.”
“(Between) 40 to 99, we'll issue an alert and you will be given a 24-hour suspension. One hundred and above is grounds for arrest for being impaired,” Froehlich said about the blood/alcohol levels determined by the ASD. “You're now under arrest and you will be taken to the station to perform a breath test. We'll demand a sample under the criminal code and you'll be read your Charter of Rights, including your right to legal aid.”
He said a quick frisk can be involved if deemed necessary outside of the vehicle.
“If we’re satisfied and there's no concern of violence, we'll leave for the station," said Froehlich. "A tow truck will be called and your vehicle will be towed. Once we reach the station, a camera records in the bay entrance to record more audio and video for evidence.”
“Clothing and personal items are taken at the lock up counter for the booking process,” he continued. “You’ll have to give your personal information and the arresting officer will add their information.”
He said it usually takes five to ten minutes to fill out the report: “We tell them about their rights to contact legal aid. They can phone a personal lawyer if they have one. If it's three in the morning, it's usually tough to get your lawyer, but legal aid is available 24/7 if you're eligible.”
Froehlich said the police will place the call to avoid the accused person from trying to contact other outside parties, especially if an assault or drug charge is involved.
“In one situation," he said, "we had a younger person and we let him talk to his dad, they spoke, and tried to get their personal lawyer — then legal aid and at this point an hour has gone by."
Froehlich said sometimes people facing a charge of impaired driving will try to stall as long as possible before having to use the station breathalyzer, in hope the stalling will lead to a lower blood/alcohol reading.
“The courts have said the accused need the right to legal council, and if we don't properly give it, then it will be used against the case in court,” Froehlich said. “If you don't provide a breath sample, you'll be facing a charge of refusal and impaired driving, and what is your excuse going to be for not providing one?”
“A new rule is we have 15 minutes of constant observation. We divert the person off the topic and discuss family and try and get the person to relax and calm down. Then we're into the breathalyzer room to provide samples,” Froehlich said. “This is when reality sets in. Mr. Smith has maybe never been to a police station before and it can be pretty crazy in here sometimes. Reality sinks in and the demeanor changes. You sit down and the test takes place.”
For more on this article pick up the next issue of the Times-Herald.