Alcohol screening now mandatory for drivers on GTA highways

By Gene Pereira, Local Journalism Initiative reporter 

In what it says are its strongest measures yet to get drunk drivers off the road, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) says Markham, Stouffville, and other drivers on GTA highways will now have to undergo a breath sample when pulled over.

As part of every traffic stop on the QEW, highways 407, 403, and 401, GTA drivers should be prepared to undergo a Mandatory Alcohol Screening (MAS) test.

The OPP pointed to statistics showing that compared to the previous five-year average, impaired driving collisions and charges are up by close to 30 per cent.

The OPP’s Highway Safety Division says that in GTA jurisdictions impaired-related collisions mark the highest increases among the OPP regions, and the trend is continuing this spring.

“Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death on our highways, and the OPP are taking some of the strongest measures yet to detect, intercept and remove those drivers from those roadways,” said OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt. “The OPP have also seen a significant increase, about 30 per cent more, in impaired driving crashes and impaired driving charges across the province this year alone compared to the previous five-year average.

“In the GTA, we’ve seen about a 50 per cent increase of impaired driving crashes this year already compared to the previous five years.”

MAS is used by other officers throughout the world and has proven to be successful, said the OPP. A powerful tool it believes can be used to enhance its efforts to deter impaired drivers and make roads safer.

In 2018, provincial legislation provided officers the authority to demand a breath sample through an approved screening device even when officers did not have suspicion the driver had been drinking.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada expressed its support for the new legislation, which it believes is a giant step towards making roads safer.

“Mandatory Alcohol Screening is widely recognized as one of the most effective anti-impaired driving measures available,” said MADD in a statement about the legislation. “More than four decades of international research illustrate the benefits of mandatory alcohol screening. It has been adopted in New Zealand, Australia, and most European countries, and has helped reduce overall road crashes and fatalities.

“This measure will save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of injuries every year in Canada. MADD Canada has long called for the introduction of mandatory alcohol screening. It is the most consequential federal law aimed at preventing impaired driving in many, many years, and we are pleased to see this life-saving measure enacted.”

Drivers stopped for a speeding, cellphone or seatbelt offence will be required to provide a breath sample.

“Anytime you’re stopped by the OPP Highway Safety Division, you can expect you will also be required to provide a sample of your breath,” said Schmidt.

Officers will inform the driver of why they’ve been stopped and will be asked for the documents. They will then demand a suitable sample of your breath be provided for proper analysis using the approved screening device.

The test only takes a couple of seconds. At the conclusion of the test, the officer will continue with the original reason for the traffic stop as long as the results are negative.

“Zero is good news,” said Schmidt. “If you register any alcohol and you’re a young, novice or graduated driver or you register a warning range or a fail, there will be other consequences.”

Drivers are required by law to provide a breath sample.

“Failure to do so will result in an automatic 90-day license suspension, a seven-day vehicle impound and a criminal charge,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt says it’s simple. Don’t drink and drive.

“Let’s make sure we all get to our destinations safe,” he said.


Photo: OPP says drivers on GTA highways will now have to undergo a breath sample when pulled over. (OPP photo)

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