OPP to zero in on holiday drivers impaired by drugs

The OPP promises "to be vigilant looking for those impaired by drugs" as the force shifts the focus of its festive RIDE program away from drivers who've had a few too many drinks to those who've gone one toke over the line during the winter holiday season.

New focus comes as police force sees a 32 per cent increase in drug-impaired driving in 2014

The OPP's annual festive RIDE program normally cracks down on drivers who've had a few too many drinks, but this year it takes on drivers impaired by drugs as the force reports a "significant jump" in charges against drivers who are high.

The Ontario Provincial Police are putting a new spin on their annual RIDE campaign this year by promising a crackdown on drivers impaired by drugs, as part of the crusade against drinking and driving.  

The Criminal Code is really clear ... we don't have to have the over 80 [blood alcohol level] to charge you with impaired driving.- OPP Sergeant Dave Rektor

This year's emphasis on drugs comes as the number of charges officers have laid on impaired drivers has declined by 17 per cent in the first nine months of the year, compared to the same period last year. 

However, police have seen what OPP Sergeant Dave Rektor calls a "significant jump" in the charges against drivers who are allegedly high. 

"We've seen a 32 per cent increase in 2014 the number of drug impaired driving occurrences compared to 2013," he said. "We don't want people driving impaired whether it's by alcohol or drugs."

Marijuana, cocaine only part of the problem

Rektor said officers do encounter drivers impaired by marijuana, cocaine or crystal meth, but illegal drugs are only part of the only problem.

"Drugs that are prescribed by a doctor, over-the-counter medications can also impair your driving, so if you see that little label that says 'this drug may cause drowsiness,' if that's the case, then you shouldn't be driving," he said. 

While most people are aware of how alcohol affects an individual's ability to drive, Rektor said police still have a lot of work to do when it comes to educating the public about mixing driving with drugs, whether illegal or not. 

"What people need to realize is the Criminal Code is really clear when it comes to being impaired, whether it's drugs or alcohol," he said. "There's a lot of things that prove impairment. We don't have to have the over 80 to charge you with impaired driving." 

The legal limit for impaired driving is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. 

Whether it's a few too many drinks, or one toke over the line, Rektor said officers will be keen to catch drivers who flout the law. 

"It's really important that people become as alert as possible to the fact that you can be impaired by drugs as you can by alcohol and it's not any more acceptable." 

The provincial police force launches its annual crackdown on Monday, November 24. It will run through December, ending on January 5.