Bob Bell has decades worth of tragic stories to tell. From his 32 years of front-line policing, he can recount far too many experiences of witnessing destruction wrought by impaired drivers.
But consider the 1,000 or so impaired drivers he pulled off the roads during his career, and it is clear there could be so many more tragedies to recall.
“Just through the years, going to collisions and seeing the aftermath of people getting injured and dying, that was a major impact. You knew you could make a difference by getting the drunks off the road,” said Sgt. Bell, who retired from the RCMP in February.
Bell spent eight years in charge of traffic services with the Red Deer detachment after stints in Grande Prairie, Three Hills, Ponoka and Canmore. During his time in Red Deer he emphasized the use of checkstops to get drunk drivers off the road, and from all those late night encounters come stories aplenty.
Just about every night at a checkstop, he said, someone would try driving right through the barricade, nearly running down the stationed officers.
Some imbibers who do stop can get creative to try to prove their sobriety — one young man thought his ability to do a backflip would get him out of the serious charge.
“We can do an intersection in Red Deer say at two in the morning and pick up say four or five impaired drivers at that one intersection in an hour or two. If we can go to one intersection and pick up five or six … then you can imagine how bad drinking and driving is,” said Bell, 56.
Based on 2011 crime statistics, Red Deer was found to have the second highest rate of impaired driving incidents — 847 per 100,000 people — among Canadian cities.
Bell said he does not believe the scourge of drunk driving is any worse in Red Deer than in other cities, but he does believe enforcement here is superior.
Because Red Deer is a regional hub where youth from outlying communities come to party, he said checkstops in the city reduce crashes that can be more severe on rural roads.
And he said that thanks to gripping presentations in schools and greater general awareness, police are booking fewer young people at their checkstops.
“Kids are taking it to heart now. Man, it used to be a badge of honour to get drunk and make it home; not so much anymore.
“More and more often you see a sober or designated driver and everyone in the vehicle happy and laughing and joking around, and the driver saying ‘Oh, I’m the DD.’ Or at checkstops quite often you’ll see a parent. It’s three or four in the morning; a parent, they’re in their pyjamas,” he said.
The Red Deer chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving presented Bell with a plaque of appreciation earlier this month for his work combatting impaired driving over the years.
Chapter president Aleta Neville lauded Bell for the partnerships he made with MADD and other agencies to educate and encourage compliance.
Bell threw the praise right back to the advocacy organization for the work it does supporting the families of victims years after collisions take place and cases make it to court.
If progress is being made on reducing drinking and driving, Bell said he encountered an increase in drugged driving in his last few years, and distracted driving incidents are ballooning.
And with social media nowadays, people can alert hundreds of other drivers as to the location of checkstops in 140 characters or less, something Bell largely sees as positive.
“Just the word getting out that there are checkstops out makes a difference…. If we set up a checkstop it might be for two or three hours, then we move to another location. So if people are made aware that ‘Oh, they’re doing checkstops tonight,’ they’re going to not be sure if we’re still in that location we were at 20 minutes ago or if we’ve moved,” he said.
Bell remains involved with the RCMP, and he has set a goal to bring to Alberta a B.C. program that honours police officers who get impaired drivers off the road.