Festive R.I.D.E. program stops 1,350 vehicles in first weekend

Police officers conducting a RIDE traffic stop.

RIDE patrol
Todd McEwen/Northumberland News
COBOURG — Members of Cobourg and Port Hope Police services conducted a R.I.D.E. patrol on William Street on Dec. 2, 2016.

“I’m sorry.”

Those two words were all a sombre senior had to offer a judge in a Cobourg courtroom after the man was found guilty of impaired driving.

The Crown pushed for a $1,500 fine and one-year driving ban considering the senior drove erratically through a construction zone on Hwy. 401 around 9:30 p.m. Nov. 1 while under the influence of alcohol, court heard.

According to an agreed upon statement of facts, police located a black Kia Sol near Cobourg after receiving several complaints of a vehicle “having difficulty” staying in its lane on the highway. Police stopped the motorist near Burnham Street and detected a “strong odour” of alcohol from the vehicle and the driver admitted to having a “couple of drinks,” court heard.

Police then administered a roadside test and discovered the senior had double the legal limit of alcohol in his blood.

Jerome Plamondon, 69, was charged with impaired care and control of a motor vehicle while his blood alcohol content exceeded 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood.

About three weeks later, he was one of dozens of people lining the courtroom with similar charges waiting to hear their name so they could appear before Justice Robert Graydon, enter their plea and begin a new chapter in their lives.

For Plamondon, that new chapter includes paying a $1,300 fine and a one-year ban from driving for a crime that remains preventable, yet continues to congest the court system and demand police responses on roadways.

“Impaired driving has been steadily increasing. It’s increased across Ontario,” Cobourg Police Service’s Acting Sgt. Marc Bellemare said, who leads this year’s Festive R.I.D.E. program.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control earlier this year, Canada ranks as No. 1 (34 per cent) among 19 wealthy nations for percentage of motor vehicle deaths related to alcohol impairment. Ranked just below Canada were the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimates four Canadians are killed each day in traffic-related collisions involving alcohol or drugs. In 2012, MADD claims there were 2,546 crash deaths and of those — 58 per cent of the drivers were impaired.

During the first weekend of December, Cobourg and Port Hope police joined efforts to kick off the season’s festive R.I.D.E. program where police set up roadway patrols in an effort to reduce impaired driving.

During the first few days of the program (Dec. 1-4), 1,350 vehicles were stopped; one person was charged with impaired over 80 mg; three youths were diverted to a police program; three licence suspensions; six Highway Traffic Act charges; two Liquor Licence Act charges; two standard field sobriety tests, and 14 roadside screening tests were administered.

Acting Sgt. Bellemare arrested an impaired driver on Friday night after observing an approaching vehicle make a sudden U-turn and travel in the opposite direction of the R.I.D.E. check point.

“(Turning around) is a signal that leads us to believe there could be a problem, so we like to investigate it,” Acting Sgt. Bellemare said.

The motorist was charged and taken back to Cobourg Police Service where he was processed, entered into the system and given a future court date. The date is typically less than a month later, Crown attorney Mark Moorcroft said.

“On impaired driving cases, we try to have the charge before the court within three weeks of the offence date,” he told Northumberland News in an e-mail.

Typically, the accused are given their disclosure — the evidence against them — on their first appearance, including video recording of the accused in the “breath room”, Moorcroft said.

From there, the accused are usually required to appear in court twice more, if they want to qualify for a reduced licence suspension.

“The vast majority of impaired driving cases resolve within 90 days of the offence,” Moorcroft said.

To earn a reduced licence suspension, the accused has to enter an early guilty plea and qualify for the province’s ignition interlock program, which allows eligible drivers convicted of a first-time alcohol-impaired driving offence to reduce their suspension in return for meeting specific requirements, like installing a mini breathalyzer in their vehicle.

Currently, the Criminal Code of Canada sets out a mandatory 12-month driving ban for anyone convicted of impaired driving. However, the province amended the Criminal Code a few years ago and created new streams for offenders to receive a reduced licence suspension through the program.

Moorcroft noted there has been various changes to legislation in regards to impaired driving throughout the years, but he points to the elimination of the Carter defence in 2008 for unclogging the court system.

“During my career I have found that impaired driving cases have actually gotten quicker, as the Stephen Harper Conservative government legislated away the Carter defence, which used to make the trials even longer,” he said.

The Carter defence was a tactic used by defence teams to create reasonable doubt that the approved instrument (breathalyzer or intoxilyzer) was not accurate and the accused’s blood alcohol concentration could have been below the legal limit.

“This was done by calling the accused to say how much alcohol they had consumed, and then having a toxicologist testify that the stated amount of alcohol would not have put the accused over the legal limit,” Moorcroft said.

The accused often called other witnesses who were present at the time they consumed alcohol to confirm the amount, which increased the length of each trial.

“Now in order to be successful in such a challenge to the approved instrument, the defence toxicologist has to be able to prove that there is actually a problem with the functioning of the approved instrument,” Moorcroft said.

“That is very hard to do and so we see far fewer evidence to the contrary defences.”

Standing outside the Cobourg Police Service headquarters on the night of Friday, Dec. 2, Chloe Craig shivered on the sidewalk as Sgt. Bellemare made his way back into headquarters to book his impaired driver.

As a volunteer with Operation Red Nose, Craig was waiting to head inside to join her team of volunteers for a night of designated driving.

“I just think drinking and driving is one of those things that can be avoided and should be avoided,” she said.

Until Dec. 31, Craig and a handful of volunteers donate their time to the program that offers free safe rides home during the holiday season.

The group of volunteers operates in teams of three: a driver, a navigator and an escort. When a call is received, the volunteers are dispatched in an escort vehicle to the pickup location. The driver and the navigator drive the passenger to their destination in the client’s vehicle. Meanwhile, the escort driver follows in a separate vehicle and at the end of the trip transports the team back to headquarters.

Operation Red Nose partners with YMCA Northumberland to raise money for YMCA Strong Kids. Last year, the program raised $22,171 with the help of 78 volunteers and 223 rides offered.

Craig, a YMCA volunteer, was looking to donate her time during the holiday season and was drawn to helping with Operation Red Nose.

“I know people growing up who had accidents or passed away because of (impaired driving),” she said. “It’s one of those things that’s everywhere and I want to eliminate it as much as possible.”

For more information on Operation Red Nose, visit www.ymcanorthumberland.com.

Source: Northumberland News