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Drunk driving charges up during holiday season

Jan 05 2012

Police nabbed more drunk drivers this holiday season compared with last year, traffic cops said Wednesday.

Officers relied more on charging impaired drivers with criminal offences after a B.C. Supreme Court decision struck down part of their tougher administrative provisions.

The region’s integrated road safety unit laid eight criminal charges for impaired driving and issued a dozen 24-hour suspensions during its annual Counter Attack campaign, which ran from Dec. 2 to Dec. 31.

It was up from one impaired criminal charge and five 24-hour suspensions over the same period in 2010.

Including administrative driving charges under the Motor Vehicle Act, IRSU laid a total of 36 impaired-related charges last month compared with 21 in December 2010.

“We don't have the [immediate roadside prohibition] option anymore so we have to go with the criminal charge, we no longer have that discretionary power,” said IRSU spokesman Const. Rob Figueiredo.

A B.C. Supreme Court ruling on Nov. 30 suspended the 90-day immediate driving ban ushered in in September 2010 under the province’s tougher drinking and driving laws. Justice Don Sigurdson ruled the legislation was unconstitutional because it did not provide adequate appeal mechanisms.

Sigurdson is giving the government until the end of June to make changes to the law.

Since the ruling, anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol level over 0.08 will receive a 24-hour suspension and will face criminal charges.

Victoria police spokesman Const. Mike Russell said he is frustrated that traffic cops encountered more impaired drivers on the road during their Counter Attack campaign from Oct. 30 to Dec. 31.

Of the 14,045 vehicles checked at weekend roadblocks, seven people faced criminal charges for drunk driving and 30 people were given 24-hour suspensions. That was up from two criminal charges and 27 24-hour suspensions among the 12,303 cars that passed through roadblocks during the same period last year.

In 2011’s Counter Attack, Victoria police gave 15 tickets for people who blew a warn, having a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 to 0.08, compared with just two the year before.

“It's super frustrating for us that we continue seeing it year after year,” Russell said. “It's almost a slap in the face [considering] this is the most preventable cause of death that we have going.”

Victoria police issued 690 tickets for drivers caught not wearing seatbelts, talking on cellphones or other traffic violations — way up from the 261 tickets doled out last year.

Seventy-seven cars were impounded because of drunk driving, excessive speeding or dangerous driving, compared with 22 impounds during the same period in 2010.

Saanich police laid five criminal charges for impaired driving, two for refusal to provide a breath sample and two for impaired by drugs.

It was slightly down from the 10 impaired-related criminal charges in 2010, said police spokesman Sgt. Dean Jantzen.

Jantzen noted impaired driving has declined overall in recent years.

RCMP on the Lower Mainland caught more impaired drivers than last year. Mounties issued 399 impaired charges, 90-day vehicle impoundments or administrative driving prohibitions between Nov. 1 and Jan. 2, compared with 308 over the same period in 2010.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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