Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Number of drunk-driving charges nearly doubles

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POLICE are nabbing almost double the number of alleged drunk drivers this year, and most of them are men.

The seasonal Checkstop program is half done, but already Winnipeg police have charged at least 57 people with impaired driving, driving with a blood alcohol level over .08 or failing to provide a breath sample. That includes two new arrests made overnight Saturday and into Sunday, and it matches the total number of arrests made during last year's entire Checkstop program.

Another 83 people have had their cars towed and their licences suspended for 24 hours with a warning. That includes six new warnings issued Saturday night and into Sunday.

Police spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen says the spike in arrests doesn't necessarily mean more people are drinking and driving. Instead, he said, police have improved the way they enforce drunk-driving laws this holiday season.

In addition to the traditional checkstops on busy roads, a team of about 14 officers is staking out bars, socials, curling clubs and even house parties, looking for lawbreakers before they cause accidents.

The Winnipeg Free Press recently went on a nighttime ride-along with veteran officers in the impaired-driving unit as they checked up on drivers leaving the Green Brier Inn, a Tavern United pub and an Earl's restaurant.

Michalyshen said the new tactics, plus the experience of the officers involved, has produced more arrests. "We're getting better at doing business," he said.

Of those charged with drunk driving, almost all are men. Of the 57 arrests, only five were women.

Michalyshen and MADD Canada local president Doug Mowbray couldn't say why -- whether it's machismo that makes men think they are still sober enough to drive, or whether higher rates of alcohol abuse among men leads to more impaired driving.

But Mowbray said MADD's own data confirm far more men drink and drive than women. Even more worrying is young people continue to drink and drive despite public-awareness campaigns dating back decades. MADD has advocated for tougher blood-alcohol thresholds, especially for new drivers. Ideally, said Mowbray, young drivers should face impaired-driving charges if they have any alcohol in their system, even .01 per cent.

In the meantime, Mowbray said he was heartened to hear this year's Checkstop program is so successful.

"Police and RCMP are doing a fantastic job," said Mowbray. "It's a tremendous effort, a team effort."

The seasonal checkstop program started Dec. 3 and ends Jan. 2.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2010 A3

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