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Battle against drunk driving honours four-year-old Alexa

Apr 27 2012
RCMP Insp. Ted Emanuels talks about an impaired-driving testing unit — a recreational vehicle converted into a roadside processing centre for drunk drivers — that was on display Thursday at Glenlyon Norfolk School. The Washington state vehicle was shown off during a ceremony to name 77 officers to Alexa’s Team, in honour of four-year-old Alexa Middelaer, of Surrey, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2008. More than $270,000 has been raised for Alexa’s Bus, which will be used to combat impaired driving with educational materials and evidence-collection gear. 

RCMP Insp. Ted Emanuels talks about an impaired-driving testing unit — a recreational vehicle converted into a roadside processing centre for drunk drivers — that was on display Thursday at Glenlyon Norfolk School. The Washington state vehicle was shown off during a ceremony to name 77 officers to Alexa’s Team, in honour of four-year-old Alexa Middelaer, of Surrey, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2008. More than $270,000 has been raised for Alexa’s Bus, which will be used to combat impaired driving with educational materials and evidence-collection gear.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , timescolonist.com

The mobile impaired driving unit - a huge recreational vehicle converted into a roadside processing centre for drunk drivers - is hard to miss when Washington state troopers have it out on the road.

It was also hard to miss Thursday when it was parked outside Glenlyon Norfolk School as an example of what could be cruising B.C. highways by early next year thanks to more than $272,000 in fundraising.

Surrey residents Laurel and Michael Middelaer, the parents of four-year-old Alexa, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2008, have led the fundraising to acquire "Alexa's Bus," a specially equipped bus that will be active throughout the Lower Mainland.

The command unit was shown off during a ceremony to name 77 officers from the South Island to Alexa's Team, which recognizes officers who have given out at least 12 impaired driving charges or immediate roadside prohibitions.

Washington's six-year-old mobile unit program has been widely praised for reducing drunk-driving related fatalities. In 2006, the state had 340 drunk driving related fatalities, said Washington State Police Sgt. J.P. McAuliffe, a number that dropped to 260 in 2010.

Right now, when officers initiate a criminal impaired investigation after pulling over a driver with a blood-alcohol level over 0.08, they have to take the driver back to the local detachment to perform a breathalyzer test and write up the paperwork, a process that can take officers off the road for hours.

"[The mobile unit] speeds up the whole DUI process," said McAuliffe, explaining that it allows an officers to be off the road for just 30 minutes.

"That officer can go off and in turn arrest another impaired driver."

The command unit has a dispatch centre, three breathalyzer devices, a fingerprint area, three computer terminals to allow officers to write up the paperwork and two holding cells for drunk drivers. It even has an antenna that can grab video from the police aircraft that is sometimes used to record footage of suspected drunk drivers who are reported by other motorists.

It is always staffed by three officers with expertise in impaired driving and can be requested by any local police force planning a roadblock.

McAuliffe said the bus costs about $80,000 a year to staff and maintain.

In the past six years, the Washington troopers have processed 2,500 impaired drivers and seen a steady reduction in the number of impaired-related fatalities.

"It brings huge efficiency to the operation side of impaired driving enforcement, and the other side of it is public awareness," said Insp. Ted Emanuels, the officer in charge of the RCMP Lower Mainland traffic section.

The RV is also used as an educational tool, put on display at special events and on holidays when drinking and driving is a problem, such as New Year's Eve.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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