Drunk and stoned drivers still stubbornly taking the road

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia’s courts continue to hear cases of drunk drivers with two and three times the legal limit of alcohol in their system.

Finding alternative transportation or staying put after drinking alcohol is vigorously promoted by police and local groups like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), but the number of charges remains stubbornly high, statistics show.

In 2016, Sarnia Police laid 50 impaired by alcohol and three drug-impaired charges, said Const. John Sottosanti. In the first 11 months of 2017, police had laid 36 alcohol impaired charges and one drug impairment.

“They say for every one impaired charge there are three more out there,” said Sottosanti.

Four people die every day in Canada in impaired driving crashes, according to MADD Canada.

“It’s a stupid decision to get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking or taking drugs,” said local President Natalie Andrews. “There is no excuse. People know it’s wrong.”

Police are concerned the legalization of marijuana in 2018 will increase the number of drug-impaired drivers on the road.

“We’re waiting to see what tools the government will give us, particularly if we’ll have roadside testing,” Sottosanti said.

Roadside screening devices are used to detect drinking and driving, but an approved drug-use detector is not yet available.

At best, when drug use is suspected a specially trained officer is called to the scene to test drivers for co-ordination, eye movement, body temperature, blood pressure and fine motor skills. Symptoms are specific to certain drugs.

“There’s hope that some kind of instrument, perhaps using a mouth swab, will be approved for roadside testing when marijuana is legalized,” said Sottosanti.  “That’s why you read that law enforcement organizations want the legalization to slow down.”

In Lambton County, OPP have two drug recognition officers trained for roadside assessment.

“Based on that, OPP can demand a blood test,” said OPP Sgt. Steve MacNally.

Lambton OPP charged 63 people with alcohol impaired driving in 2016, and six drivers with drug impairment.

That number increased in 2017 with 72 alcohol impairment charges by November, and another three drug impairments.

“Every day, every shift, we are out with the R.I.D.E. (Reduced Impaired Driving Everywhere) program,” Sgt. MacNally said.

“We stop thousands of cars, as many as 150 in a single shift, and we believe the public appreciates it.

“We don’t get any complaints from drivers at a R.I.D.E. stop.”

The president of MADD Sarnia/Lambton, said a campaign encouraging drivers to call 9-1-1 if they suspect someone on the road is impaired is working.

Citizen reporting has increased impaired investigations and led to countless convictions, Andrews said.

“We should all do our part and call in suspected impaired drivers.”