Police, MADD blitz Super Bowl Sunday drivers

Police fanned out across Toronto Sunday to conduct one the largest RIDE blitzes in the city’s history.

Despite the show of force only seven cars were towed and three arrests made; last year nine persons were arrested for drunk driving.

According to Sergeant Jack West of 54 Division, Super Bowl Sunday is the ideal time to set up the RIDE program: “We know that people are going to be celebrating and including alcoholic beverages,” he said. “So knowing that, we want to go out there and keep the roads safe. This is all about saving lives.

“We want people to have a plan, and stand by that plan, and the plan is to have a designated driver, take a taxi, TTC, rent a room, have a sleep over,” Sgt. West said. “But don’t drink and drive.”

He hopes eventually planning and common sense will win the day, but if Sunday night’s  experience is anything to go by, police aren’t holding their breath.

As torontoobserver.ca tagged along, Sunday’s RIDE stop pulled over a few motorists who were mixing drinking and driving. In one instance a man was stopped when officers smelled alcohol on him. He was asked to provide a breath sample, which he passed.

The man then informed police the smell was from the open beer on the passenger side of his car. Upon investigation a six-pack was found with an open beer. The man was charged with having open alcohol in a vehicle.

Some drivers couldn’t even manage to get their stories straight. One motorist responded to the question, ‘have you had anything to drink tonight?’ with ‘no, just two drinks.’

Police have found people like to claim to have had only two drinks. They warn this is not a fail-safe way to avoid charges.

While putting the brakes on drunk drivers is one aim of the RIDE program, preventing them from getting behind the wheel is the first priority, Sgt. West said. By announcing some of the RIDE locations in advance police hope drivers will find an alternative to driving after having had a few.

Sunday’s RIDE exercise fanned out across 15 locations and included 99 police officers, as well as auxiliary police officers and volunteers with MADD; the plan was to make a big impact.

Numbers like 50, 000 people injured because of drinking and driving per year, or 25 per cent of all fatal accidents involving a drinking driver make Sgt. West hope people get the point soon.

To drive the point home MADD volunteers handed out red ribbons to those who travelled through the RIDE stop.

Carolyn Swinson was one of these volunteers. In 1981 a drunk driver killed her father, then 12 years later her son died the same way.

“Two generations of my family are lost to impaired driving and I don’t want a third generation to be affected by it,” she said.

After the woman who hit her son was acquitted of the charges, Swinson said she and her family were fuelled by their anger to take action.

“We chose the direction that we would get involved and hopefully stop people from going out there and creating the sadness,” she said.

Swinson’s story is the human face of the tragedies spawned by drunk drivers and police feel her message will help people to understand the greater impact drinking and driving has.

“When somebody is killed… it’s a rippling effect,” Sgt. West said. “It could be a spouse, now it affects the children, grandparents, neighbours, the workplace, everybody, so many people affected…”

These are the consequences Swinson wants people to remember next time they think about driving while intoxicated.

“I also get very sad at times and there is not a single day that I don’t think about him and even after this length of time it’s always there,” she said.