More drug-impaired drivers nabbed by annual Checkstop program

Forty-six people were charged during Winnipeg police's annual checkstop program, including five who were suspected of driving under the influence of drugs.

Five charged impaired driving after using illegal drugs compared to 1 last year, police say

More drivers were charged with driving while impaired by illegal drugs this season than during last year's Checkstop program, Winnipeg police say. (CBC)

Forty-six people were charged during Winnipeg police's annual Checkstop program, including five who were suspected of driving under the influence of illegal drugs.

Last year, 56 people were charged with impaired driving in total and only one person was suspected of driving under the influence of a substance like cannabis or a methamphetamine.

"We are seeing an increase in persons impaired by a drug or a combination of drugs and alcohol," according to Const. Stephane Fontaine, who oversees impaired driving countermeasures with Winnipeg police.

Fentanyl, methamphetamines and cannabis were among the drugs suspected to have caused driver impairment during this year's holiday season program.

It's difficult, if not impossible, for police to say whether more people are taking drugs or whether it's simply a matter of police being better at recognizing the impairing effects of drugs, said Fontaine.

"There's no doubt that the training we're doing is helping us, statistically, arrest more drug-impaired drivers," he said.

"There are more officers aware of what to look for."

No breathalyzer for drugs yet

Police officers trained as drug recognition evaluators, also called DREs, learn how to determine whether suspects are impaired by drugs.

There are 24 Winnipeg Police Service members trained as evaluators. Manitoba RCMP have a similar number, and police services in Brandon and Ste. Anne have some officers trained as well, said Fontaine.

"We don't have a breathalyzer for drugs, exactly. Our equivalent to that is our trained drug recognition evaluators," he said. "Our goal is to train as many DREs as possible and to cover all four corners of the province."

Officers trained as evaluators are shown how to conduct two types of tests: a psychophysical exam where officers examine a suspect's eyes and put them through a divided attention test, and a clinical test that checks a person's blood pressure and body temperature.

Fontaine noted officers without the DRE training can still charge a driver for drug-impaired driving based on evidence they gather on the scene.

But he said abuse of illegal drugs still only makes up a fraction of impaired driving cases.

"Absolutely alcohol is the number 1 abused drug across Canada, and we see way more alcohol-impaired drivers than we would see drug-impaired drivers," said Fontaine.