Police encourage public to call 911 if they spot a drunk driver

Ninety-eight arrests have been made because of the public calling 911 when they spot a possible impaired driver, police say.
OPP will be out on the highways focusing on dristracted drivers, but also watching for drunk drivers and passengers without fasened seatbelts, Woodford said. (Terry Asma/CBC)

Ahead of the Labour Day long weekend, Hamilton Police sent an important public message.

"It's criminal, dangerous and 100% preventable. It's impaired driving. Don't drink & drive. If you suspect an impaired driver call 911," reads a tweet from the Hamilton Police account.

The service is encouraging anyone driving on Hamilton roads who spots a suspected drunk driver to pick up the phone and call police, said Sgt. Doug Jonovich with Hamilton Police traffic services.

"If someone can identify a possible impaired driver, police can get right in," Jonovich said. "And a lot of the time, it is a drunk driver."

It's part of Operation Outlook, a two-year-old police-led campaign that encourages drivers to call 911 when they spot a dangerous driver.

To date, police have arrested 317 impaired drivers in 2013. Ninety-eight of those were a result of a 911 call, slightly fewer than the 107 calls that led to arrests by Labour Day 2012.

Even while behind the wheel, drivers shouldn't be scared to pick up the phone, said Sgt. Dave Woodford said Ontario Provincial Police.

Number of vehicles stopped by RIDE checks in Hamilton

  • 2013 (to date): 126,000
  • 2012: 228,315
  • 2011: 167,766
  • 2010: 150,256
  • 2009: 152,833
  • 2008: 132,508
  • 2007: 89,536
  • 2006: 95,989

"Under the drunk driving legislation, it's an emergency. You're allowed to make the call," he said. "We want people pulled off the road. Drivers weaving from lane to lane, that's an emergency."

Woodford said OPP has "a lot of calls coming into the communications centre" on a regular basis. The calls usually report a driver weaving through lanes on Ontario's highways, Woodford said, and the caller is asked to get a license plate and try to keep a view of the vehicle until an officer can intercept, if it's safe.

"People do call in," he said. "Not always does it end up as impaired. It could be fatigue or distracted driving."

The latter category is the focus of the OPP's long weekend RIDE program this Labor Day. Woodford said as of Aug. 25, 32 Ontarians have been killed on highways as a result of alcohol impaired driving this year. In the same time period, 47 deaths have occurred because of distracted driving — that includes using a cell phone or eating or drinking while driving, and out-of-car distractions.

"When you're driving by Canada's Wonderland, people are looking at the Drop Zone, or a plane flying overhead," Woodford said.

Hamilton Police is also focusing on distracted driving and speeding this long weekend, Jonovich said.

Even with just 98 calls leading to impaired driving arrests, Jonovich said Operation Lookout has worked well so far, and encourages more drivers to make calls if they spot someone driving dangerously.

"The main way [of stopping drunk drivers] is when officers are out there, but the number two way is Operation Lookout," he said. "It's been very effective."