New federal legislation that takes effect Dec. 18 will allow police to demand a breath sample from any driver they lawfully stop. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Red Deer RCMP ready for new mandatory alcohol screening law

Red Deer RCMP are ready to enforce a new law intended to curb drunk driving.

Federal legislation for mandatory alcohol screening, which takes effect Dec. 18, will allow police to demand a breath sample from any driver they lawfully stop. The current threshold requires reasonable suspicion the person has been drinking.

The government says the aim of the law is to reduce carnage on the roads by helping police catch drivers with more than the legal limit of alcohol in their bloodstream.

Cpl. Michael Zufferli, with the Red Deer RCMP, said it can be challenging for officers to determine if there is a reasonable suspicion someone is driving while impaired.

“If we don’t have someone admitting they’ve been drinking … or if the officer isn’t able to smell alcohol on their breath, it can be very difficult,” he said.

Some drivers will mask the smell of alcohol with tobacco or body spray, he said.

“There could also be other patrons inside the vehicle with the driver who are extremely intoxicated. You could smell the alcohol off them, and we as police officers have to make sure the smell of metabolizing alcohol is coming from the driver and not the patrons of the vehicle,” said Zufferli.

Zufferli said local officers will be ready for the new law when it’s in place.

“All the members here will be subject to an information session so they understand the proper procedures, but when it comes to training, nothing’s changed,” he said.

Officers will use the same device to gather breath samples as they did before, he added.

“It’s exactly the same instrument we’ve been using for years. They’re maintained, calibrated every 28 days to ensure accuracy. There isn’t any requirement for new training,” he said.

Police could legally stop someone for speeding, going through a stop sign or as part of a holiday spot check program.

Multiple check stops are planned for Dec. 18.

“You’ll see us out there … doing these check stops, ensuring that we don’t have any impaired drivers on the roads and that we don’t have to go knocking on any family members’ doors and telling them their loved ones have been killed in collisions,” he said.

Mandatory screening shouldn’t cause any significant delay at check stops, he said.

“It’s not like we’re going to stop 3,000 cars and people will have to sit there until we test everyone. That would be unreasonable.

“This new mandatory screening is a reasonable measure to limit the amount of fatalities,” he said.

RCMP generally see an uptick of impaired drivers during the holiday season.

“It’s important people realize they have other options. You can stay over, you can call a cab, use a ride sharing service,” Zufferli said. “Driving impaired is not worth the risk.”

Mandatory alcohol screening is currently in place in more than 40 countries, including Australia, France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden.

–With files from The Canadian Press

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