OPP Festive RIDE campaign against impaired driving gets underway ahead of holiday season

The annual enforcement and education initiative aims to take impaired drivers off Ontario roads as officers conduct RIDE checks 24-7 throughout the province. Amy Simon / Global News

With the holiday season just around the corner, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) West Region officers are joining forces with municipal policing services to combat impaired driving with the launch of the 2023 Festive RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) campaign.

The annual enforcement and education initiative aims to take impaired drivers off Ontario roads as officers conduct RIDE checks 24-7 throughout the province.

Running from Nov. 16 to Jan. 1, officials say the campaign will wrap up yearly West Region OPP efforts to combat impaired driving in 2023.

To date, West Region officers have conducted 7,170 RIDE checks across all 13 detachment areas. That’s compared with 3,559 in 2022, marking a 166 per cent increase since last year.

“We certainly have an all-hands-on-deck approach to our RIDE campaigns and making sure that our members are visible, present and trying to reduce fatalities on our roadways that are caused by alcohol- and drug-impaired incidents,” said Lori Doonan, superintendent of West Region OPP.

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“We clearly require this campaign because the message is not being received as we would like to have a zero-base rate for impaired driving.”

Lori Doonan, superintendent of West Region OPP, in London, Ont., on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Amy Simon / Global News

According to recent statistics, officers have laid more than 2,000 impaired driving-related charges in 2023, up from just over 1,800 last year.

Doonan also highlighted that 18 people have died as a result of impaired driving-related collisions in the region this year.

“That figure represents more than half of the provincial OPP total of 31 roadway collision deaths in which alcohol and drugs were a factor,” she said. “These deaths are tragic and unnecessary.

“That’s why our members are working hard to prevent others from making the bad choice to drink or take drugs and get behind the wheel,” Doonan continued. “It’s important to remember that impaired driving doesn’t only take lives, it changes lives, and never for the better.”

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Locally, there have been three impaired driving fatalities across Elgin and Middlesex counties as of Oct. 31. Compared with last year, impaired driving charges are up 34 per cent, from 62 to 83, in Elgin County and up 14 per cent, 134 to 153, in Middlesex County.

Jeff Hare, media relations and community safety with Middlesex County OPP, said police are “definitely seeing an uptake right now.”

“Just this past weekend, in Middlesex County alone, we had five impaired driving charges,” he told Global News. “It’s extremely frustrating.

“The messaging is out there. Everybody knows not to drink and drive, and yet the numbers are climbing,” Hare said. “That’s why we have these Festive RIDEs, which have been very successful in the sense that we’re catching people that are driving impaired.”

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Sarah Neusteter, president of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) London and Area, said initiatives like the Festive RIDE campaign are “incredibly important.”

“When we say that we wish we could go out of business, it sounds odd because no organization ever wants to go out of business. But as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, we do wish we could go out of business. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen,” she said. “But if we can continue to raise awareness, and hopefully get these numbers to go down, rather than increasingly going up, that would be ideal.”

Having lost her mother to an impaired driver, Neusteter stressed that “these deaths are 100 per cent preventable.”

“The more we can remind people, support initiatives and really show how serious impaired driving is, then maybe it will resonate with people and, hopefully, we’ll see the numbers start to go down,” she said.

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