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Aiming for zero the goal of this year's holiday RIDE campaign

Last Updated Nov 22, 2019 at 3:57 pm EDT

With the proliferation of Christmas markets and the ramp up of holiday parties, provincial police and York police forces have launched their holiday RIDE campaigns.

So far this year, OPP patrolled roadways have seen 40 deaths related to alcohol or impaired driving. Last year, 56 drivers were killed in alcohol or drug impaired crashes while between 8,000 and 9,000 people were charged with impaired driving.

On hand today for the launch of the York region campaign was Jennifer Neville-Lake whose three young children and their grandfather were killed by an impaired driver in 2015.

“It’s difficult to be here because we shouldn’t really have to be here,” she said. “The reason we’re here is the result of somebody else’s choices, actions and consequences. We have to live with the consequences.”

Justine Ellis was six weeks pregnant and had a one year old at home when her husband was killed by an impaired driver while on his way to work.

“When it happened to me, it was surreal. I was widowed at 28 years old,” said Ellis, two years to the day she buried her husband. “He was just trying to take care of his family and that right was stolen from him by somebody’s selfish choice.”

York Regional Police say so far this year more than 5,000 people have called them to report a suspected impaired driver. While those numbers are up – which is a good thing – it also means that they’ve laid more than 1,500 impaired driving charges, which is 100 more than the same time last year.

“I don’t understand why people aren’t getting the message,” said Ellis. “I just wish that our justice system would take a step up and start doing better.”

“These numbers are rising and that’s disappointing and frustrating for all of us,” said York Regional Police Deputy Chief Jim MacSween who called it an “overwhelming issue” that affects the entire country.

“It’s probably a tip of the iceberg – we know the numbers are increasing, we know the calls to us are increasing …that just leads us to believe there are more out there that we’re not detecting or finding.”

OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt says aiming for zero is the theme of the campaigns across the province and among the familiar ways police will enforce the message is through the traditional ride check.

This year police have a little more leeway, with drivers being asked to give a breath sample on demand without any suspicion. Police will also have access to drug screening equipment that can detect the presence of marijuana or cocaine with just a simple saliva test.

“What we want everyone to do is make good decisions. If you’re out there celebrating with alcohol, have a designated driver or have an option,” says Schmidt.

The festive ride campaigns start Nov. 22 and continue through to Jan. 5.