Cpl. Ted Manchulenko has seen and heard it all when it comes to drivers under the influence getting caught behind the wheel.
After many years as a member of the RCMP and having been on the scene of horrible accidents caused by drinking and driving, there is also nothing more frustrating to him than hearing another excuse from an impaired driver.
“It’s extremely difficult because of those reasons. We see the aftermath and it is not just the one person, it affects everyone — families, emergency services that show up, the people that are driving by and have to witness it. It doesn’t just affect that one person that decides to take a drink and make his way home or wherever they are going to,” said Manchulenko.
“It just doesn’t seem to be getting through to people, or to as many as we would like it to.”
Despite results in a government-released survey that shows 30 per cent of drivers say the new impaired laws prompted a change in their behaviour, Manchulenko said the first weekend of road checks showed otherwise. Over the course of an eight-hour shift in Penticton on Dec. 1, RCMP and the South Okanagan Traffic Services took six impaired drivers off the road, made one drug seizure, two liquor seizures, found three people driving with no insurance and 11 people stopped that were unlicensed drivers.
“It was very strange and in a very short time period. We were actually quite surprised because it was fairly early in the season,” said Manchulenko. “It is quite a high number. I can’t figure out why people aren’t getting the message of having alcohol when they are operating motor vehicles, and the unlicensed drivers was also a surprise because it is pretty straight forward that you are supposed to have it with you.”
Those found driving under the influence can face the loss of their licence, vehicle and about $600 in penalties if they blow a “warn” on an approved screening device at the roadside and more than $4,000 if they blow a “fail.” Manchulenko said a vehicle can also be impounded, and you have to pay to get your licence back.
“Monetarily it can add up pretty quickly, not to mention the inconvenience. If you need your vehicle, and most of us do to get to work or the grocery store, the inconvenience factor is huge,” he added.
In order to push the message to not drink and drive, Manchulenko said RCMP will be using more unmarked vehicles. He said drivers can expect to see roadside checks every weekend from now to just after Christmas. And don’t think just because it’s a weekday, or you live outside the city limits, you won’t get caught.
“We are taking a little bit of a different approach this year in that we aren’t going to be specific to the weekends, you might see us on a Wednesday afternoon. It throws people off and some people are surprised to see us at that particular time but we want to keep everybody on their toes and let them know that we are out there. Simply thinking because you had the office party on a Tuesday afternoon and you can slip home after having four or five drinks, well you might be surprised,” said Manchulenko.
“I think that is part of the solution. If people can keep this on their mind and make better choices that is good. Then they also don’t have to have any involvement with the police or sanctions placed upon them. They get home safe, their family is safe and it is better for everyone.”
Some choices offered within Penticton for those who have consumed alcohol and cannot drive home include several hotels in town that offer a special rate for people attending Christmas parties, or simply calling a cab to take you home safely. Amar Kahlon, who owns Courtesy and Klassic Kabs, said they have their full fleet of 19 cars out during the height of Christmas season and have back up drivers standing by in case a flood of calls comes in, or the weather turns ugly.
“A lot of companies use our Christmas party service as well, setting up a safe ride home ahead of time for employees. Cabs are arranged accordingly and we can cater to all those people for a ride home and we service the whole valley down to Osoyoos and up to Summerland and Naramata,” said Kahlon.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the CounterAttack program, that was launched this year in Penticton on Dec. 1. ICBC reports that in the year before CounterAttack road checks started, more than 300 people were killed in impaired-related crashes every year in the province. Since 1977, an average of 113 lives are still lost each year and impaired driving remains the second leading cause of car crash fatalities in B.C. Regionally, the Southern Interior accounts for 36 of those lives per year.
RCMP said decoys such as popping gum or mints in your mouth, drenching yourself in cologne or perfume or chugging water won’t mask the smell of alcohol. They also remind drivers that there is only one way to sober up and that is time. Drinking coffee, sports drinks or eating greasy, salty food might make someone feel better but it doesn’t make you sober. RCMP said only time and your metabolism can take care of that.