For many, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year, but for the Lethbridge Traffic Response Unit, it can be a time of concern for public safety on the roads.
“In the months where we are celebrating the holidays, we see the number of impaired drivers go up,” Const. Kristen Songer said Saturday.
“We see them rise because there are more staff parties and work parties that people are attending.”
Due to these higher incident rates, Songer said the traffic unit conducts several checkstops throughout the holiday season, starting in December and running through to the beginning of January.
Songer said that with Canada’s recently implemented alcohol screening law, that allows police to ask for a breath sample from any driver they pull over, local traffic units have been able to better identify impaired drivers.
“With the mandatory alcohol screening, we’re finding that we’re able to detect or pick up people who are impaired by alcohol a lot more than we have in the past,” Songer said.
“It’s been a very effective tool for us.”
While alcohol screening may help take some impaired drivers off the road, Songer said there is not the same test available for drug testing yet.
“If we do check someone who we believe is impaired by marijuana or any other… drug, which includes prescription drugs as well, then we will perform co-ordination tests to make sure they are OK to drive,” she said.
“The number of drivers impaired by drugs has gone up. We’re finding that [some] people have upwards of six or seven drugs in their system at any given time, so that’s quite an alarming number.”
The number of impaired drivers is also a concern to members of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Association, who attend these holiday checkstops to offer gift bags to sober drivers.
“These checkstops are so important, especially if you talk to a family who had that knock on the door at 3 a.m. informing them that they’ve lost their loved one to an impaired driver,” said Anita Huchala, president of Lethbridge and area MADD.
“That’s part of the reason that we are out here, to take those impaired drivers off the road so that a family doesn’t get that knock on the door.”
Songer said drivers found to be impaired this holiday season may face a multitude of penalties that include a licence suspension and hefty fines.