A roadside breathalyzer test unit.

An NRP officer displays roadside test unit. Bob Tymczyszyn/Postmedia Network

Two years ago, the Niagara Regional Police started naming and shaming impaired drivers.

The impact on impaired driving rates in Niagara is debatable, but police say they have no regrets: Hundreds of those charged have had their identities published online in weekly updates posted on the NRP website that list the driver’s name, hometown and age.

“I don’t have any second thoughts,” Chief Jeff McGuire said. “We put a lot of work into it when we started it. We didn’t just wake up in the morning and decide to do it.

“I think it is the right thing to do in the interest of transparency and crime prevention. We are trying to protect everybody.

“Employers and neighbours have a right to know if someone is under a form of suspension of their driving privileges. In the past, they would not have known.”

But criminal lawyer V.J. Singh said people charged with impaired driving already face a high level of social stigma and embarrassment, even without having their names published.

“If we deem it to be newsworthy, then the public needs to know,” Singh said. “If the intent is just to shame and humiliate people — that’s not the proper use of the information.

“Their lives are in turmoil after drinking and driving charges. They pay a high price. They are often terrified of having their names in the paper.”

In 2015, there were 487 impaired driving arrests on roadways patrolled by the Niagara Regional Police.

It’s a number that’s way too high, said Andrew Murrie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“We don’t have any science or evidence that naming impaired drivers in media sources makes impaired driving numbers go down, but the police believe it is the right thing for their community,” Murrie said.

“I’ve often heard police chiefs say that if it makes the difference in one drunk driving or impaired (case), it is worth doing.”

The numbers of impaired driving arrests in Niagara has dropped since police began publishing names.

There were 538 people charged in 2013, the year before the NRP started identifying the drivers. That number fell to 472 in the first year of the online program.

“It is hard to make a direct correlation” between the change in policy to the drop in rates, Const. Phil Gavin said.

However, he reiterated the NRP believes releasing the name is a “positive step” in reducing impaired driving and saving lives.

McGuire agreed.

“I understand it creates a challenge in people’s lives, but they made choices and have to face the consequences,” he said. “Quite frankly, I think the people have shamed themselves.

“We have received a fair bit of public support for it. I think I have only had three or four calls from people who have taken the time to contact my office directly to ask they be exempt from having their name published. We don’t make any exceptions. If they are charged, we proceed.”

The purpose of publishing the names is twofold, according to the NRP. First is to act as a deterrent. Second, it enlists the public’s help in ensuring compliance with the conditions imposed on those charged.

The Ministry of Transportation issues a 90-day administrative driver’s licence suspension to anyone accused of impaired driving.

The police encourage the public to contact the NRP’s traffic safety hotline or Crime Stoppers to report anyone who is driving in contravention of the suspension.

“My advice is to spend the money on a cab or get a designated driver,” Singh said. “Get someone to drive your car. You have a lot of choices.”

Murrie said a conviction can cost an individual somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 when all is said and done.

“You have to pay your fines. You have to pay your lawyer. After the conviction, you also end up paying between $10,000 and $12,000 a year for insurance — and that is if you have a good record.

“Some are thinking they are going to lose their job. They are going to lose their friends. Make the decision before you get behind the wheel. There is nothing wrong with going out and having fun, just don’t put anybody else or yourself at risk.”

Postmedia’s Niagara newspapers — the St. Catharines Standard, the Welland Tribune and the Niagara Falls Review — made a decision not to publish the names released by the NRP.

“It’s a matter of fairness for us,” said Peter Conradi, the editor in chief. “We aren’t able to follow all these cases from beginning to end as they go through the court, and the NRP doesn’t report the names of the people who have been acquitted.”

It is a crime that covers all demographics.

Of the age range of those arrested, the highest percentage is between the ages of 30 and 59, the NRP report. Ninety-nine per cent are alone in the vehicle when charged.

“You just need to take a look at the carnage and fatalities and lives destroyed by impaired drivers,” McGuire said. “We will do everything we can to help people make the right decisions, and that includes making the public aware of those who are suspended.”

How much is too much?

How many drinks does it take to become legally drunk?

That’s the wrong question to ask, because it presupposes that there is a fixed number of drinks that are acceptable before you get behind the wheel, according to the website dui.drivinglaws.org

For example, if you are taking medication, one drink could put you into the ‘driving while impaired’ category, the website said. For some people, it often takes very little alcohol to become legally drunk, and physical characteristics such as weight, gender and body fat percentage can all be factors in the equation.

Eating can also affect your outcome — you are more likely to fail a blood-alcohol test if you do not eat. So practically, if you’re wondering how many drinks you can have before driving, the best answer is “None.”

Source: St. Catharines Standard