October 6, 2022 October 6, 2022

New impaired driving regulations has helped law enforcement

Posted on 24 December 2021 by Ryan Dahlman
Acting Sgt. Brent Paxman, of the Traffic Response Unit and Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh on the occasion of him receiving an award in 2019 for taking drunk drivers off the road. It is called the Cpl. Cumming’s Watch award.

The annual Christmas Check Stop campaign is one tool local law enforcement agencies have to keep Southern Alberta roads safer this holiday season. 

With the pandemic, there’s a been a steady mix of cancellation or limitation of some holiday-themed events mixed with a desire to let loose, acting Sgt. Brent Paxman, of the Traffic Response Unit of the Lethbridge Police Service says there’s been major changes both provincially and federally with impaired driving since 2018 and that has changed how law enforcement approaches impaired driving situations.

“There’s a new section that was a complete revamp of the Criminal Code, which allowed us police officers to use mandatory alcohol screening — meaning anyone that we stopped we can simply throw on the roadside device (at any point),” Paxman explains. “But recently, honestly, I didn’t really notice a big change. after that. I didn’t see an increase in impaired drivers or really a decrease. It was just another tool for officers. Recently, though, December 1 2020 came our new provincial administration penalties I guess, getting it out of the criminal justice system and just attaching pretty heavy administration penalties attached to these. Since that has happened, I know the province has seen a 43% increase in impaired driving fines, which is quite significant. I don’t think there’s that many drivers out there. But I think there’s that many more officers enforcing which, which is a good thing, obviously, right? And there is a big change. 

Paxman adds usually a full criminal impaired driving charge would take an officer probably two officers off the street for about four hours to deal with all the legalities around it. Now with the administration penalties, one officer can deal with that vehicle in about 45 minutes without ever leaving the road, which Paxman thinks is another reason why there was an increase in fines because those officers who are looking for impaired drivers are out there more.

An Alberta RCMP  statement points out Mandatory Alcohol Screening is used by Alberta law enforcement to deter and detect impaired drivers. If a driver is pulled over or at a check stop, they can expect to provide a breath sample. Individuals with a Graduated Driver’s Licence must abide by the zero tolerance law (Government of Alberta, 2021, see related information on Bill 21, go to https://bit.ly/3qhSemk).

Paxman says he has not noticed a massive change so far from previous years to this year.

“What I’ve seen so far is quite similar to what what has been happening the last few years, I guess last year was was a really one-off — we hardly had anyone on the road last year — but this year, I’ve run two Check Stops already,” says Paxman prior to the Dec. 18 Check Stop in Lethbridge. “And the numbers are showing I would say a bit more impaired than previous five years. I’ve gone back five years now and our numbers this year, I think, will probably exceed those ones, but not by a huge amount…I I feel like that’s more of a benefit for this new administration penalty than anything. I don’t think there’s any more vehicles out there. But with this new way of dealing with the impaired, I think we’re bound to get a couple more.”

The Dec. 18 Check Stop which was held at various locations across Lethbridge, a total of about 525 vehicles.

According to Lethbridge Police Services, the Dec. 18 Check Stop efforts resulted in three Immediate Roadside Sanction ‘fails,’ one IRS ‘warn’ for a blood/alcohol content of .05 or greater, and three IRS for zero tolerance with a Graduated Driver License. Under IRS legislation, penalties include a specific period of license suspension and in some cases a vehicle seizure, as well as substantial fines and fees. Those given an IRS fail must also participate in an educational course and install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle before they can apply to have their license reinstated. 

The Lethbridge Police also reported with the help of Alberta Sheriffs and Coaldale RCMP, Lethbridge Police conducted mandatory alcohol screening on more than 825 drivers at various locations across Lethbridge Dec. 4-5. The Dec. 4-5 Check Stops resulted in four Immediate Roadside Sanctions (IRS) fails, four IRS for zero tolerance for those with a Graduated Driver Licence, and one IRS 24-hour suspension. There were also 13 Traffic Safety Act tickets written for various infractions including seven involving alcohol or cannabis, and one firearm seized for safekeeping, with no criminal charge. Lethbridge Police, with the assistance of Alberta Sheriffs, also took two suspended drivers off the road, issued 25 violation tickets under the Traffic Safety Act and Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act, and nine vehicles towed. 

Paxman says officers are happy to get impaired drivers off the road, but it is just part of their duties. 

“Obviously, there’s gratification to get (an impaired) driver off the road. For some, it’s more than others, right and others there’s some that are indoor choose that have been affected greatly by impaired drivers. Obviously, the gratitude of getting an impaired driver off the road at that point is much more great than those that haven’t been affected. But even those that haven’t been affected, they understand the importance of keeping the road safe and making sure to safely grade so obviously there’s gratitude there but there’s no I wouldn’t say there’s there would be any type of frustration with the driver. And just we all know people make poor decisions. And we’re just trying to do a job.

“With impaired drivers, we don’t see a lot of repeat offenders. A lot of them are what I would call normal members of society that made a bad choice. I actually like moving the impaired driving to the administration side of things. I was hesitant at first thing, getting it out of the criminal court system, because I like you. I believe that there should be some hefty penalties and criminal records attached to it. But now that we’ve moved to the administration side, and I see the penalties coming out about our weight extensive compared to what they were with the criminal and that I mean, out of our hands, right. And so we would we would charge and then it would go to the judge in the court system. And honestly, I think at that point 40% of the charges were were dropped. Anyways, which was frustrating. I would think that would be the more frustrating part of this whole process. But as far as dealing with the individual roadside, whether they just committed a robbery or in their driving or whatever it is, we as officers are trained to deal with these individuals professionally, and treat them with with respect. So I would say an officer wasn’t doing his job properly if he got too frustrated with an impaired driver. That is just something that we have signed up for, we deal with, from like a day-to-day basis type thing, and it’s something that we are trained to work through.

“With impaired drivers, we don’t see a lot of repeat offenders. A lot of them are what I would call normal members of society that made a bad choice. I actually like moving the impaired driving to the administration side of things. I was hesitant at first thing, getting it out of the criminal court system, because I like you. I believe that there should be some hefty penalties and criminal records attached to it. But now that we’ve moved to the administration side, and I see the penalties coming out about our weight extensive compared to what they were with the criminal and that I mean, out of our hands, right. And so we would we would charge and then it would go to the judge in the court system. And honestly, I think at that point 40% of the charges were were dropped. Anyways, which was frustrating. I would think that would be the more frustrating part of this whole process. But as far as dealing with the individual roadside, whether they just committed a robbery or in their driving or whatever it is, we as officers are trained to deal with these individuals professionally, and treat them with with respect. So I would say an officer wasn’t doing his job properly if he got too frustrated with an impaired driver. That is just something that we have signed up for, we deal with, from like a day-to-day basis type thing, and it’s something that we are trained to work through.”

Paxman has been recognized for his work with taking impaired drivers off the road. In 2019, he received the Cpl. Cumming’s Watch award. Cpl. Cumming’s Watch recognizes police officers in Alberta who have shown a commitment to removing impaired drivers from the road. The program is in memory of Cpl. Graeme Cumming, an RCMP officer who was killed by an impaired driver while a attending a traffic incident on Highway 3 near Lethbridge on Aug. 12, 1998. The “Watch” honours the memory of all officers who have been killed on duty as a result of motor vehicle collisions and also recognizes their colleagues who continue the fight against impaired drivers.

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