With so many parties and get-togethers linked to the holiday season, there are ample opportunities for people in Newfoundland and Labrador to have a few celebratory beverages of an alcoholic nature.
With that in mind, it can be guaranteed that police officers out on patrol will keep a close eye on driver behaviour in order to help keep drunk drivers off the road and increase safety for other motorists and also pedestrians.
One might think that the number of people charged with impaired driving increases once the holidays arrive, but according to a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary platoon commander, that’s not always the case.
“I think it’s a steady thing that we see throughout the year,” said Acting-Insp. Paul Woodruff, seated inside his office in St. John’s.
“We’ve looked at it, and we’ve had this discussion, but I don’t know that we see more of anything in particular over Christmas.”
That said, Woodruff does believes there is heightened public awareness surrounding impaired driving in the lead-up to Christmas Day and the new year.
“There’s a lot more office parties and a lot more house parties, so we certainly remind people to be a little more vigilant over the holiday season.”
Over an eight-day period from Dec. 21-28, RNC officers in the St. John’s metro area charged 12 people with impaired driving. Woodruff said that may be up slightly in comparison to a typical eight-day stretch, but not by a significant amount.
Roadside checkpoints are set up over the holidays and at times show most drivers are getting the message when it comes to impaired driving.
Two Dec. 22 checkpoints referenced in an RNC overnight report covered approximately 450 vehicles. Several drivers were issued tickets under the Highway Traffic Act, though no mention was made of impaired driving charges.
“It’s a visible thing,” said Woodruff.
“People see us out there. It’s a reminder to people that we’re out there, and as an enforcement tool, it’s a good thing for us.”
Public awareness also helps police when it comes to receiving tips about suspected impaired drivers.
“One of the big messages out there is that we are getting a lot of people phoning in telling us about impaired drivers out there,” he said.
There were two such instances this past weekend where reports from witnesses resulted in arrests for impaired driving. Early Friday evening, a man was arrested and charged with driving while impaired after witnesses told police a vehicle on Water Street had struck three parked vehicles.
The next day, a tip from a fellow driver led to the arrest of a 21-year-old woman for impaired driving. Her vehicle was impounded.
As of Saturday, the RNC had received 2,778 calls in 2012 within the St. John’s metro area concerning possible impaired drivers. According to Woodruff, almost 11 per cent of those calls (295) led to arrests for impaired driving. More than 76,000 calls in total about possible crimes had been received in 2012 as of Saturday.
In 2010, the RNC received 2,641 calls, and 2,771 calls were received concerning possible impaired drivers in 2011.
“The public awareness is getting out there more and more, and people are tolerating it less and less,” said Woodruff.
Woodruff said when people know beforehand they will consume too much alcohol to drive later in the day, it makes sense to have a plan in place.
A taxi can be booked ahead of time, or arrangements can be made to have a designated driver in place.
Officers today are well trained to conduct field sobriety tests, and Woodruff added that advances have been made in techniques to determine whether a person is driving under the influence of drugs.
He also said winter driving is “more dangerous as a whole” compared to other seasons.