Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Report Impaired Drivers

70,000 Eyes Watch
For Impaired Drivers

Maybe you are on the way home from work; or you’re returning from dinner and a movie; or, you are driving your children to soccer practice. You notice another vehicle is not staying in its lane, speeding up and slowing down – just generally erratic. You think the driver may be impaired and ask yourself “what should I do?”

In Nanaimo, you would know to pull over and call 911. You would know that because for the last nine months billboards and road signs urging people to “Report Impaired Drivers: Call 911” (RID Call 911) have dotted the landscape.

The public education campaign is a year-long pilot project that was launched in June 2009 and partners the Nanaimo RCMP Detachment with Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) Canada, BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles and the City of Nanaimo.

Acting Sgt. Norm Smith of Nanaimo RCMP Traffic Services says the program has been running really well. “Now we have 70,000 eyes watching for drunk drivers,” he says. “The program is another important tool we can use with the public to get drunk drivers off the roads.”

Over the first six months of the project, more than 500 emergency calls were received from the public. Of those, police were able to quickly locate nearly 350. There were 25 impaired charges laid, 24 people were given 24-hour suspensions, and 193 were given tickets for things such as driving without due care and attention. In some cases, the driver was not found to be impaired or violating any traffic laws.

For the 222 who were not located but for which a plate number was reported, there was a surprise in the mail from the local police. “We sent out warning letters to the registered owners to let them know that we received a report about the manner in which their car was being driven,” A/Sgt. Smith says, as part of the education campaign.

RID Call 911 is modeled on the Campaign 911 program initiated in 2007 in some Ontario communities by MADD, local police and municipal and provincial partners. Since then, it has been implemented in various locations in every province but Manitoba and Quebec.

MADD Canada’s Andrew Murie says he is very pleased with the success of the Nanaimo pilot and is very hopeful that it will ultimately be expanded province wide. “The key in Nanaimo is that it is a very well signed program. No matter where you go in the city, you are going to see one of the signs,” says Murie, MADD’s Chief Executive Officer.

As the program has been implemented in various communities across Canada, research has shown on average that the number of calls to 911 to report possible impaired drivers doubles in the first year. Murie says their research also shows an increase in charges for impaired driving by 30%.

In British Columbia, impaired driving kills an average of two people and injures 60 every week. Nationally, it is an average of four people killed and 207 injured every day. The ‘call 911’ programs across the country have been an “amazing success,” Murie says.

“Our other MADD chapters in BC are eagerly waiting to get involved in their communities,” he says. The provincial government will decide on any expansions following the completion of the pilot. An important part of the Nanaimo pilot was a change in the way reports of suspicious drivers were handled by the detachment. 

In the past, people who called 911 were sometimes asked to call the non-emergency line instead, could created a lag time between when the information was received and when the officers on the street got the information needed to find the vehicle.

“We are now very clear internally and with the public that a report of a suspected drunk driver is an emergency situation and calling 911 is appropriate,” says A/Sgt. Smith.

If you spot someone driving in a manner that makes you think they might be impaired, get a description of the vehicle and the driver if you can, the licence plate number and be prepared to tell the 911 operator where you are and which direction the vehicle is heading. Ideally, pull over to make the call but if you are not able to, an emergency call to 911 is allowed under the new BC cell phone driving law.

“We all wonder if someone driving oddly is impaired,” said A/Sgt. Norm Smith. “Now, there is no excuse. Pick up the phone and call 911.”


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