New drunk driving rules that took effect Tuesday, Dec. 18 mean Langley RCMP officers will have more leeway when deciding when to administer a breathalyzer test to drivers.
Bill C-46 means police can demand a breath test from any driver pulled over for a traffic violation or at a road check.
Since a breathalyzer test can lead to a roadside suspension or charges under impaired driving laws, police may be able to catch more drunk drivers this holiday season.
Sgt. Alexandra Mulvihill, head of Langley RCMP’s traffic section, said the biggest difference will be at the CounterAttack-style road blocks.
To conduct a test in the past, police needed some reasonable suspicion that a driver was impaired.
That could mean driving behaviour, such as swerving and driving erratically. It could mean a smell of alcohol or slurred speech.
But a driver who had been drinking but rolled up to a roadblock slowly didn’t always present obvious symptoms of impairment.
“We didn’t have driving evidence,” Mulvihill said of the roadblock checks.
Sometimes that didn’t matter.
“We’ve had some [road checks] where we couldn’t pull them over fast enough, impairment was obvious,” said Mulvihill.
But sometimes road checks don’t pick up very many impaired drivers, while officers on general patrol on the same nights do find drunk drivers by their driving behaviour.
Now police can, theoretically, ask for a check from anyone at a road check.
It will also be helpful at the scenes of collisions, Mulvihill said.
The smell of alchol at a crash may be masked by the debris of a detonated airbag, or by fluids leaking from a damaged vehicle.
Mulvihill said Langley RCMP officers will be using the new rules judiciously.
“It’s not going to be an immediate go-to,” said Mulvihill.
Officers will still be working to formulate a reasonable suspicion before reaching for the breathalyzer.
Mulvihill said officers in general duty and traffic section have been trained on the new regulations. They’ve also been upgrading their skills around spotting marijuana-impaired drivers.
“I would seen we’ve seen a marginal increase in 24-hour prohibitions by drugs [since marijuana legalization],” said Mulvihill.
It’s too soon to say if there’s been a major uptick since October, when legalization went into force.
As usual, when it comes to the holidays, police have a clear message for drivers.
“Don’t drink and drive, pretty simple,” said Mulvihill.