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Lack of equipment, dangerous drivers hamper holiday checkstops in Cape Breton

Const. Brennan Burrows holds a roadside breathalyzer device for detecting alcohol impairment. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Const. Brennan Burrows holds a roadside breathalyzer device for detecting alcohol impairment. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

Cape Breton regional police stopped more than 4,000 vehicles during holiday checkstops in December and didn't find a single impaired driver.

But it doesn't mean there weren't impaired drivers on the road.

Const. Brennan Burrows, an officer with the traffic division who also trains police across Atlantic Canada in alcohol and drug impaired driving enforcement, said enforcement was hampered by a lack of equipment, and drivers intentionally dodging the checkstops.

"Every time we would set up our pylons, get our lights going, get our jackets and stuff on, you would see a lot of people coming up to the checkpoint ... and then they would turn and go the opposite direction at a high rate of speed," said Burrows, who is also on the board of MADD Canada in Cape Breton.

In some cases, drivers refused to roll down their windows and just drove through the checkpoint without stopping.

"So it became a safety issue when they were approaching the checkstop ... they're basically almost running us over and taking off at a high rate of speed," Burrows said.

The fire department were called to the 1400 block of 9th Avenue Northeast at around 12:45 a.m. for reports of a large fire.
The fire department were called to the 1400 block of 9th Avenue Northeast at around 12:45 a.m. for reports of a large fire.

Police in Cape Breton said some drivers sped past checkstops over the Christmas season. (motortion/stock.adobe.com)

Burrows said police did have unmarked vehicles nearby but high-speed chases are only for high-risk or dangerous situations, according to policy.

Some drivers may be avoiding police because of an expired plate or inspection sticker and, especially during the holidays, many people are willing to take a chance on being pursued, he said.

"We're not going to risk that for maybe a ticket," Burrows said. "Public safety is No. 1.

"We will not pursue when someone's avoiding a checkstop. We'll relay the info [and] try to do some followup if we can get a plate."

Equipment shortage

Burrows also said police were unable to conduct random roadside alcohol testing this year because most of the devices were away being calibrated.

He said they were unable to get them back on time because the person who does the calibration had a death in the family.

Const. Brennan Burrows of the Cape Breton Regional Police holds other equipment used for detecting impaired drivers.
Const. Brennan Burrows of the Cape Breton Regional Police holds other equipment used for detecting impaired drivers.

Police can use a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff to test for drug impairment. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Cape Breton police had a few hand-held roadside devices available during the checkstops, but according to the law, could only demand drivers blow into them if there were reasonable grounds to suspect impairment, Burrows said.

They were able to test for drug impairment because that involves a trained officer, a checklist, a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff.

Rob Matheson, president of MADD Cape Breton, said the checkstops are still valuable regardless of statistics.

"We know they're understaffed," he said. "Equipment issues [and] staffing issues have been an issue for a while now.

"They're doing the best they can, but it is a deterrent. I mean people do see the checkstops out there."

It would be naive to think there were no impaired drivers in CBRM over the holidays, Matheson said, and that's why it's important to keep getting the message out about sober driving.

47 impaired charges in Halifax

Cape Breton police say 70 tickets were issued at checkstops for a variety of offences. Five people were charged with impaired driving at other times during the holidays.

By comparison, Halifax police stopped more than 10,000 vehicles during holiday checkstops and issued 47 impaired-related charges.

Burrows said anyone who suspects a driver is impaired should call 911 and provide as much description of the vehicle and driver as possible.

He said police will try to intercept impaired drivers, but only if it's safe.

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