It’s that time of year again, when members of the Ontario Provincial Police and other law enforcement agencies in the region take to the roads to help drivers enjoy the holidays responsibly.
The Festive R.I.D.E. campaign, an annual initiative that sees police forces set up traffic stops to monitor for those driving under the influence, launched in Fort Frances on Friday. In a release from the OPP, they reminded the public that it is everyone’s duty to help keep impaired drivers off the road by taking preventative measures such as arranging rides, calling for cabs and reporting drivers who appear to be under the influence.
Rainy River District OPP Cst. Guy Beaudry said that the program will run throughout the holidays to help spread awareness and to try to prevent any serious drug and alcohol related traffic incidents.
“The Festive R.I.D.E. program runs from November 18 to January 2, 2022,” Beaudry said.
“It’s our last traffic initiative of the year. It’s one of our biggest ones, one of our important ones because it covers the festive period. Provincially it’s supported by MADD Canada and Arrive Alive.”
According to information provided by the OPP, officers have responded to close to 2,000 different accidents or collisions involving alcohol or drugs, which have resulted in 29 deaths and serious personal injuries. However, in 2021 the OPP have received more than 21,000 calls to report suspected impaired driving. More than 8,000 alcohol and drug impaired driving charges have been laid by the OPP so far this year.
While the number of impaired drivers tends to go up around the holidays, Beaudry said they’ve begun to see more drivers who are impaired by drugs.
“We are starting to see a rise of impaired by drug, because as you know, marijuana and such is legal,” Beaudry said.
“We’re seeing more and more of that. In this day and age, there’s no reason why you should get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. There are several taxi services in town, there are friends and family, or plan ahead. If you know you’re going out to a Christmas party, plan ahead.”
Beaudry noted that since the program runs throughout the holiday season, motorists can expect to see the flashing lights along any of the routes in the area, potentially at any time.
“Throughout this campaign we’re going to be doing R.I.D.E programs throughout the Rainy River District at any time of day,” he said.
“We’ll also have members brought in on overtime who will conduct rides, going to various locations. No specific point, just out of nowhere we’ll do a ride program. You’ll see us, we all have our high-visibility vests and we’ll be dressed for the elements.”
The OPP will also be doing Mandatory Alcohol Screening (MAS) tests throughout the campaign. Due to the MAS laws, officers in Ontario can demand a breath sample from any driver they lawfully pull over without reasonable suspicion that said driver may be under the influence. Officers can also demand that drivers submit to a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) and a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Evaluation, according to the release from the OPP.
Alongside the OPP, Beaudry said that members of other police services will also be taking part in helping to prevent impaired driving this holiday season.
“Every police force in Ontario is doing this,” Beaudry said.
“In northwestern Ontario there’s Treaty 3 Police who are doing it, Dryden City Police, Thunder Bay City Police, as well as CN Police.”
In the release, OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique stressed the importance of refraining from driving after consuming alcohol or drugs, noting it can cause untold devastation in the blink of an eye.
“Losing a loved one in a collision that involves impaired driving is among the most preventable tragedies on our roads,” Carrique said.
“Make a commitment to never drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs and report anyone you suspect of doing so to the police. During the Festive R.I.D.E. campaign, OPP officers will make full use of their expertise, tools and authority to detect and charge impaired drivers. Together, we have the ability to keep our roads safe over the holidays and throughout the year.”
The penalties for driving under the influence are also significant. There is a zero tolerance policy for young (under 21), novice (with license class G1, G2, M1, M2) and commercial drivers (A-F class license) that will see any blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) or drugs in the system met with “severe consequences and potential criminal charges” according to the Government of Ontario. For fully licensed drivers found with a BAC of 0.05 or higher, or under the influence of drugs, will also face significant penalties. A first offence includes a 3-day license suspension and a $250 penalty.
A BAC of over 0.08 is considered a criminal offence.
The campaign is an important tool for police services in order to help ensure that everyone has a happy and safe holiday season.
“If you stop one person from drinking and driving, it’s a success,” Beaudry said.