Anyone stopped by Red Deer RCMP in the past 13 months has likely been subjected to an alcohol breath test.
In December 2018, federal legislation went into effect to allow police to demand a breath sample from any driver they lawfully stop. Previously, reasonable suspicion that the person had been drinking was required.
Calgary police announced its decision this week to test every driver pulled over, or at a checkstop. Until now, only eight traffic officers at any given time performed mandatory alcohol testing.
Red Deer RCMP Sgt. Michael Zufferli said he was surprised by the delay in mandatory testing in Calgary.
“The direction was pretty clear when it came out in 2018. The vast majority of RCMP jurisdictions have already been doing this for a very long time. Red Deer is consistent with RCMP policy across the country,” said Zufferli, who is in charge of the traffic section.
“We started doing it a now a year ago. Every officer that is trained in the operation of a screening device, and is carrying a screening device with them at the time, will, and is required, to be conducting mandatory alcohol screening.”
He said Red Deer has 24 devices, which is more than enough to have one in each marked police vehicle on the road. They are part of the equipment officers gather when they start their shift.
Sometimes, a new officer still has to be trained, or a device may be in for calibration testing. But otherwise, officers should carry it with them whenever they approach any vehicle they stop, he said.
Zufferli said when he stops someone for a vehicle violation, say, a burned-out taillight, or prohibited window tinting, he will ask the driver to provide a breath sample.
And officers are arresting more impaired drivers by catching those with a higher alcohol tolerance or something else that could be masking their alcohol use, he said.
“We are arresting those drivers that generally would have been able to skirt detection before, because members would need reasonable suspicion. We’re able to locate those, and remove these dangers off the roadways.”
He said out of hundreds of breath tests, he has only had one driver complain.
“It’s very non-invasive. It’s generally only 45 seconds to a minute more than it would have been if I had just conducted a regular stop before this regulation.”
Four people in the city were arrested on New Year’s Eve for impaired driving, which shows drunk driving is still a problem, he said.
“Any tool that we can have that can be utilized to improve public safety, the RCMP here in Red Deer are going to embrace, and ensure that we’re using it to its fullest,” Zufferli said.
— with files from The Canadian Press