It’s as certain as the appearance of Christmas trees, inflatable Santas and extended hours at the mall: As the holidays approach, Durham police officers take once again to the region’s roadways, seeking out drivers who choose to get behind the wheel after driving.
Durham’s Festive RIDE program, which runs between late November and early January each year, continues to be remarkably successful at detecting impaired drivers, with an average of more than 120 drinking and driving charges laid each year.
That’s a good news-bad news scenario, according to Sergeant Matt Flower of Durham’s Traffic Enforcement Unit. While Durham’s program is clearly catching drunk drivers, there are still an alarmingly high number of people who choose to drive after drinking.
That’s in spite of years of education and enforcement, including high-profile efforts like Festive RIDE.
“You can’t fix stupid,” Flower drily observed.
“The message is out there; it’s being drilled into the public,” he said. “But that message has to be received,”
A case in point is Thursday, Nov. 17. That day Durham police held a media event to announce the launch of the annual Festive RIDE campaign. Speakers representing the police, paramedics, Durham Transit and Mothers Against Drunk Driving implored the public to make wise choices when it came to drinking and driving during the holidays.
That night the first spot checks of this year’s Festive RIDE campaign were set up, with 730 vehicles stopped in Oshawa and Ajax. Five people were charged with drinking and driving offences, among them a 26-year-old man who was travelling on Taunton Road in Oshawa when his van left the roadway, crossed the sidewalk and struck a post near a gas station.
By the time the first full weekend of the campaign was complete, 19 drinking and driving charges had been laid, and another 19 motorists received three-day licence suspensions after registering a warning on roadside blood alcohol screening devices.
The numbers are stark, but they are affected by the aggressive approach taken by Durham’s RIDE team. They’ve had significant success over the years by employing a strategy that sees the team targeting areas where drinking and driving is likely to occur, and setting up in multiple locations each night to cover a variety of areas.
“We use intelligence-based policing,” Flower said. “We don’t just form a line and wait for them to come to us — we go out and look for them.”
Last year Durham police stopped 10,017 vehicles during Festive RIDE, administering 802 breath tests and charging 118 motorists with drinking and driving offences; another 129 were given three-day suspensions.
The number of drunk driving charges laid in 2015 was significantly higher than in 2014, when 9,577 stops resulted in 98 drunk driving arrests and 98 three-day suspensions. In years prior, however, the numbers have sometimes spiked — 132 drunk driving charges in 2012, for instance, and 155 in 2011.
Legislative changes mean that this year police have authority to impose sanctions — including arrest, automatic licence suspension and vehicle impoundment — against drivers found to be impaired by drugs. Among the officers on the Festive RIDE team are drug recognition experts, Flower said.
“They’re out there doing their job,” he said. “This past weekend is proof of that.”
The Festive RIDE campaign continues into the new year, with Durham police providing weekly updates. Names of those charged are published on the Durham police website.