February 25, 2021

With winter holidays fast approaching, Ontarians can expect an increased presence of RIDE programs on our roads and highways.

RIDE, an acronym for Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere, operates year-round, while police roadside spot checks are more common around holidays.

Participating police officers will see their responsibilities expand this year, with the legalization of cannabis across the country increasing concerns around impaired driving.

Impaired driving: Not just drunk driving anymore

Waterloo Regional Police’s north division at the corner of Weber Street and Columbia Street in Waterloo. Photo by Jeff Halcrow

Joe Cuoto, director of government relations and communications for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, says officers have been preparing for the changes ever since the legalization of cannabis was introduced in Parliament. Ontario police have also been broadening their training to recognize other signs of impairment that could affect the operation of motor vehicles.

“We’ve been training officers for the last year, knowing that legalization was coming,” Cuoto said, “both as drug recognition experts and to be able to understand the signs of when someone may be impaired by cannabis or any other type of substance. So that would include even things like prescription drugs that can affect the way someone handles a motor vehicle. So we’ve been working really hard to provide the training that our officers need and educate them on the changes to law.”

Cuoto said that informing the public and police officers on the dangers of impaired driving is an important focus moving forward. Cuoto said that “people are only now starting to understand this [cannabis] is now available and this is a product that needs to be consumed responsibly and we’re really looking forward to being able to educate people so that they can make wise decisions.”

During the 2015 Festive RIDE program, the OPP reported that 573 people were charged with impaired driving related offences. In 2015 the program ran from Nov. 23 to Jan. 2, and more than 350 drivers were given roadside warnings and had their licences suspended over the five-week period.

Where RIDE operates

According to Cuoto, some of the factors that influence where RIDE checks are used include proximity to entertainment districts, police hotspots and community trends such as increased travel and parties around the holidays.

“We take all of that into consideration to make sure that we’re out there, and part of doing a RIDE program is to be visible, to make sure people know that our officers are out there,” Cuoto said. “So even if it’s an area where we don’t find a lot of impaired driving, for instance, it makes the community feel better knowing that their officers are out there doing their job and keeping the community safe.”

A collaborative effort

Since the goal of the RIDE program is to keep roads across Ontario safe, there is an emphasis on collaboration between Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and regional police services.

Cuoto said that “there’s a lot of sharing going on, because we know that pooled resources are always better spent resources — particularly in areas where you might have a smaller police service who will work with the OPP and they can combine their resources to make sure that that region is safe.”

In southern Ontario, where there are larger concentrations of urban populations, many regional police services will cooperate with each other or the OPP while operating their RIDE programs.

In a show of support for the RIDE program, last week 11 police services assembled in Toronto to draw attention to the proactivity of RIDE checks as the program launched.

The RIDE program began in 1977 under the name Reduce Impaired Driving in Etobicoke. That program’s success led to its spread across Ontario.

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