If the people ordering tequila shots at 5 p.m. on the patio of Local at Kits Beach are to be believed, Vancouver really embraces social drinking in the summer. We love our after-work happy hours and anyone who's ever gotten up from the table at a Cactus Club after pounding frosé can attest that things can get wavy pretty quickly.
It's all in good fun however until it comes to finding a way home and the sad reality is that some people don't plan for that inevitability and get behind the wheel. Drinking and driving isn't just irresponsible and a risk to yourself and others on the road, it could also have pretty serious legal consequences this summer as VPD has already launched their bi-annual CounterAttack program.
VPD's roadblock plan
The CounterAttack campaigns have been going on for over 35 years in partnership with ICBC and usually take place in July and December which are typically periods of increased drinking.
According to ICBC, 65 people die in impaired driving-related crashes each year with almost a third of them happening in the summer and during the holidays. So specially trained units of officers set up roadblocks and roving checks for drunk drivers.
The VPD traffic unit was out in force over the Canada Day long weekend and tweeted that they removed 35 impaired drivers from the roads. One of the roadblocks was dedicated to the memory of a victim of impaired driving, Kassandra Kaulius, who was killed 11 years ago ,and the Vancouver chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has expressed interest in having signs made for future roadblocks in honour of victims.
When stopped at a CounterAttack road check, you will be asked to show your licence and perhaps participate in a roadside test if an officer believes you have alcohol or drugs in your system.
If you're caught at one of these roadblocks you could have your licence suspended for anywhere between 12 hours to 90 days. Your car could also be impounded for up to 30 days and in the most serious cases, criminal charges could be laid.
The drunk driving stats
In 2019 it was reported that drunk driving increased 19 per cent from the previous year, marking the end of a downward trend that began in 2011. The 2021 statistics that were shared with V.I.A. July 6 tell a similar story.
The summer of 2021 saw an increase in impaired driving in every category compared to the winter of the same year and both seasons were up from the previous year.
In summer 2021, 19 people received 12-hour prohibitions (a 12 per cent increase from summer 2020), 41 people had their licenses suspended for 24 hours for alcohol and 8 for drugs (a 46 per cent and 33 per cent increase respectively). And 81 were issued with an IRP fail which means that their breathalyzer reading came back with a blood alcohol concentration of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood or greater. This results in their car being impounded and a 90-day roadside suspension. The total number of IRP fails in both the summer and winter campaigns was up 90 per cent from the previous year.
The limitation of statistics
The information that these statistics provide is limited in two ways. The first is that the CounterAttack roadblocks increase the police presence targeting impaired drivers, which is going to naturally inflate the numbers during these periods compared to other times of the year. There was a budget increase in 2021 for the campaign so that also affected the number of officers and numbers of days of deployment compared to previous years and thus increased the numbers. There was also a Driving Enforcement Team on the road last year so a spokesperson for VPD reports that their stats were high all year round.
Secondly, due to the pandemic, there were fewer cars on the road in 2020 and bars were closed so it is possible fewer people were driving while impaired overall. As things return to full capacity and people resume their normal routines, this year's statistics may offer more insight into trends - or at the very least provide us with a more robust data set to analyze.
Finding alternative ways home
Finding a ride home isn't that difficult; there are always the same kind of tips floating around, like leave the car at home, call a friend or family member, call a cab and so on, but if you do find yourself out with your car and in need of a way home there are designated driver services that will pick you and your car up and deliver both safely to your door.
Safe Designated Drivers is like a chauffeur service that uses your car. It's great for a night out with friends where you might want to start off from home and then hit up a few different places in town. It services the whole of Metro Vancouver and parts of Greater Vancouver and has an interesting pay structure that starts at $50 base rate for pick up and driving up to 8 km and $2.50/km. The first drop-off is free and there is a $5 for each subsequent drop-off.
Another option is Discreet Designated Drivers which is a lot like a cab service but it will come and pick you up and drive you home in your car for $2.50 per kilometre. It services Vancouver, Burnaby, Langley, Maple Ridge, Port Moody, and the Lower Mainland.