Winnipeg police have laid 44 charges in the first three weeks of this year's Checkstop program, almost double last year's number.
Const. Jason Michalyshen said it's difficult to explain the increase, but suggests it could be because police have stopped 3,802 vehicles so far this year, or about 600 more than last year.
Now moving into the fourth week of the Checkstop program, there could be an even bigger jump. Last year's figures showed a drastic increase in drunk-driving charges over the New Year's holiday, jumping to 42 in the fourth week from 24 in the third.
"It's clearly a number we don't want to see. The number we want to see is zero," Michalyshen said. "We're out there and we're focusing on areas where individuals are potentially consuming alcohol, whether it's bars, social halls or private functions. It's not just about stopping vehicles in large numbers down a main roadway."
'It's clearly a number we don't want to see'
Michalyshen said it never ceases to amaze him that there are individuals still willing to take the chance behind the wheel after a night of drinking, especially with the number of services and programs available for people to get home safely.
"There's so many organizations that work tirelessly, not only to keep the awareness out there, but to provide options to get you and your vehicle home safely," he said.
Operation Red Nose co-ordinator Sharra Hinton said the service has given about 2,000 people safe rides home this season, and for no cost.
Hinton said she doesn't know why people drink and drive when they don't have to. "There really isn't a reason to drink and drive. It saddens me to see people making the wrong choice. I'm glad the police are catching them," she said.
Though police frequently lay charges, the courts have been reluctant to send drunk drivers to jail.
This week, the Winnipeg Free Press examined cases from last year's Checkstop initiative and found fines remain overwhelmingly the punishment of choice for drunk driving where no personal injury occurs.
Twenty-four of 29 cases that had been resolved by press time resulted in fines ranging from the mandatory minimum $1,000 up to $2,500. All 29 were barred from driving for various periods, but no less than a year.
The sentences came despite a get-tough stance from a senior Manitoba judge.
During staff Christmas parties, many companies in the city make arrangements and offer donations to Operation Red Nose, which gives staff members vouchers for the service. Hinton says it's another way to encourage people not to drink and drive.
"You can affect so many lives. It's not just you getting a ticket, but the other people on the road at the same time are at risk. I'd like to think that we've saved many lives," Hinton added.
Another option is free transit on New Year's Eve. The Free Ride program applies to all regular and Handi-Transit service. It starts at 8 p.m. New Year's Eve and runs until the end of service. The last buses leave downtown at about 1:38 a.m. Check winnipegtransit.com or call 311 for schedules.
But for those who choose to ignore their options and take that chance on the road, Michalyshen has a harsh warning. "Be forewarned that we are out there, we're active, and we're going to engage the members of the public in a professional and friendly manner," he said. "Should we engage those willing to take the risk, it's going to be an unpleasant process of being arrested, charged and detained."
Michalyshen fully supports people being festive and having fun around this time of year, and doesn't want to dissuade anybody from enjoying themselves. He just wants to get the message out to the public to make good choices.
"No amount of alcohol is appropriate. If you're going to be consuming alcohol, as inconvenient as it might be, you need to have a plan. Leave the vehicle where it is, or utilize one of the different programs that are out there," he said. "Whether it's Operation Red Nose, or Winnipeg Transit, there are a lot of different options for you to take."