Police caught 43 per cent fewer drinking drivers in the second half of the December Counterattack campaign in the Lower Mainland.
And RCMP Traffic Services Supt. Norm Gaumont is crediting the province’s tougher roadside penalties for dissuading motorists who’ve consumed alcohol from getting behind the wheel.
“That’s a marked decrease,” he said. “What we’re hearing from our members on the road is a lot of people are now talking about this and have designated drivers.”
A total of 427 drivers stopped by police were given prohibitions, suspensions or were charged for impaired driving in the Lower Mainland during the December Counterattack period.
That included 132 who got 90-day driving prohibitions.
Another 92 got three-day prohibitions and their vehicles were impounded.
In Mission, seven drivers were given driving suspensions ranging from three to 90 days between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3.
Two first-time offenders in the warn range between a blood alcohol level of 0.05 and the legal limit of 0.08 were given three-day suspensions.
Detailed statistics were not available for the rest of the Lower Mainland.
Tellingly, however, just six drivers during the Counterattack campaign were charged criminally for impaired driving — down sharply from a year ago.
Defence lawyers contend the most serious impaired drivers well over 0.08 are escaping without a criminal conviction or record, enjoying a virtual decriminalization of impaired driving under the stiffer administrative penalties that took effect in September.
Gaumont rejects that criticism, noting a repeat offender can now have their car towed for 30 days, be given a 90-day prohibition, be forced to use an ignition interlock at a cost of $1,400-plus per year and take a $700 course to get back on the road.
“That is not a minor consequence,” he said. “You’re dealing with them swiftly. The consequences are immediate.
“We’re hoping to change their driving behaviour immediately instead of them going back next weekend and drinking and driving again.”
Pursuing criminal charges can typically mean a two-year wait through the justice system, he added.
By not charging a drunk driver, he said, an officer saves about 20 hours of time that would normally be spent investigating, filing paperwork and testifying in court.
“Those 20 hours can now be spent on the road getting more impaireds off the road.”
Criminal charges still proceed in cases of injury crashes and more serious repeat offenders, he said.
The new system has also been accused of making police officers not just investigators but also judges and executioners, dispensing justice at the roadside.
Gaumont says drivers who doubt the accuracy of their roadside breath test can ask for a second test on a different machine and anyone penalized can appeal through the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.
“We’ve got all kinds of mechanisms in there to make sure the process is fair.”
Gaumont said the penalties are spurring a change in attitude.
And he predicts the ultimate measure of success will be a drop in impaired driving-related fatal crashes in B.C.
“Preliminary-wise, we’re seeing a drop, a significant drop,” he said, adding statistics will be released in the months ahead.
Ontario saw a 30 per cent drop in impaired driving fatalities after bringing in similar administrative penalties to B.C.’s.
The Christmas Counterattack blitz also saw 3,229 Lower Mainland speeders ticketed, including 114 for excessive speeding where the vehicle was impounded.
Officers also handed out 1,144 tickets or warnings for seatbelt infractions and 1,253 tickets for running traffic lights, failing to stop or yield or making improper turns.
Mission Mounties handed out two tickets for seatbelt infractions, 10 tickets for speeding and two tickets for excessive speeding.
Lower Mainland traffic officers intend to shift more of their focus to distracted drivers who continue to talk, text or use hand-held devices in violation of B.C.’s now year-old ban.
— With files from Carol Aun