By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
With Christmas now only six weeks away, many in the region are turning their attention to shopping and the many social activities that come with the holidays.
At the same time, Durham Region Police Service officers are turning their attention to those who make the choice to get behind the wheel while impaired.
The service officially kicked off the annual Festive R.I.D.E. campaign last week.
The Festive R.I.D.E. team will be out in the community on a nightly basis until early January.
In 2018, 117 motorists across Durham were charged with drinking and driving offences, while another 111 had their driver’s license suspended for three days after registering in the “warning range” during roadside testing.
A total of 25,110 vehicles were stopped during last year’s Festive R.I.D.E. campaign, approximately twice as much than the previous year.
Durham Regional Police Service Deputy Chief Todd Rollauer believes the local campaign is “one of the best in Canada.”
He commended the members of the Festive R.I.D.E. team for the commitment they make, and recognized the time “they spend away from friends and family” during the holiday season.
“They are doing anything they can to prevent tragedy on our roadways this holiday season,” Rollauer says.
Over the past five years, Rollauer said 544 people have been charged with impaired driving offences.
Despite best efforts by police, statistics show the message may not be getting through enough.
So far in 2019, Durham Police have charged 644 people with impaired driving offences, a 19 per cent spike from 2018, according to Rollauer.
To Michelle Crabb of the Durham chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), these figures are disheartening.
Impaired driving caused tragedy for Crabb and her family on April 22, 2007 when her 20-year-old brother was killed while riding in a vehicle driven by his best friend.
Speaking at the launch, Crabb said her brother and his friend probably never thought twice when they both got in the car that evening.
“I wonder what was going through his best friend’s mind when he fled the scene and didn’t even bother to call 911,” she said.
Crabb has spoken at the Festive R.I.D.E. launch for several years, but questioned if her message will ever truly get across.
“I wonder if what we do is enough, or if even constantly sharing stories of personal grief is worth it,” she stated emotionally.
Saying the region faces a “crisis” of impaired driving, Crabb said the community “must not turn a blind eye or constantly allow this to be socially acceptable.”
Crabb acknowledged for those officers on the front-line in the campaign, it is even more frustrating.
However, she implored to them they truly are making a difference.
“Not all heroes wear capes, and you are heroes,” she says.
Danielle Oliveira of MADD Durham took the opportunity to officially launch the organization’s red ribbon campaign for this year..
She noted the holiday season is a “high risk” time for impaired driving, and called the red ribbon a “simple yet powerful symbol” of MADD’s message.
Oliveira asked anyone who suspects an impaired driver to call 911 and report it.
“You may save a life,” she said.
Durham paramedic Brock Bodashefsky noted while the holiday season is one of joy and celebration for most, it can be the opposite feeling for first repsonders.
Having been a paramedic for more than a decade, Bodashefsky has been to hundreds of calls.
But one from within the first six months of his career, which happened during the holiday season, has haunted him ever since.
He noted paramedics put their “career and minds at risk” with every shift, and will be the ones treating injuries and perhaps confirming death caused by impaired driving.
Bodashefsky urged residents to “start a conversation against impaired driving.”
Durham Regional Chair John Henry said it is “very disappointing and absolutely senseless” there was an increase in charges during the 2018 campaign.
“Far too many people make the terrible mistake of getting behind the wheel when they shouldn’t,” Henry said.
The chair said those who are charged with impaired driving will also most likely be identified in the local media for their actions.
Durham Police will provide weekly updates on the campaign, including publishing the names of those charged at drps.ca