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Annual Festive RIDE checkstop campaign launches amid ‘overwhelming’ impaired driving statistics

This year’s increase in impaired driving arrests ‘not just overwhelming,’ but ‘unacceptable,’ Greater Sudbury Police Service Chief Paul Pedersen says

Amid worsening statistics regarding impaired driving, Greater Sudbury Police Service launched its Festive Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) campaign on Friday. 

Last year, police arrested and charged 203 people with impaired driving, which included 66 people impaired by a drug, Greater Sudbury Police Service Chief Paul Pedersen told those who gathered for Friday’s campaign launch.

Thus far in 2021, city police have arrested and charged 304 people with impaired driving, including 145 people impaired by a drug.

“That’s not just overwhelming, that’s an unacceptable increase,” Pedersen said. “We can’t let our foot off the gas and stop pushing.”

The Festive RIDE campaign is an annual effort that finds city police join the OPP and receive support from local service organizations such as MADD Canada, Safe Ride Home, Canadian Blood Services and Action Sudbury in conducting traffic checks throughout the month of December.  

Last year found 12 checkstops take place in Greater Sudbury in December, during which approximately 5,400 vehicles were checked.

Although traffic stops take place year-round, Pedersen told there’s extra effort put into them during the holiday season, when they receive provincial grant money to help boost their efforts with OPP and auxiliary officers. 

“Even though we’re still in COVID, what happens now is more social gatherings, New Year’s Eve, more opportunity to consume alcohol in a social setting, and now cannabis in a social setting,” he said, adding that checkstops will take place at various times of the day and night.

Friday’s campaign launch was hosted at the parking lot of St. Patrick Church on Walford Road, which Pedersen said was chosen because it’s across the street from DJ Hancock Memorial Park. 

“It’s a fantastic park for kids to play in, but it’s also a stark reminder,” he said, pointing to the Aug. 21, 2014, death of the park’s namesake, DJ Hancock.

The 18-year-old was driving home on Highway 17 from hockey tryouts in Lively when a vehicle driven by an impaired driver veered into his lane, killing him. 

Motioning to Hancock’s family members attending Friday’s launch, Pedersen commended their strength in carrying on with purpose and for doing meaningful work in DJ’s name. 

DJ’s older sister, Jaymie-Lyne Hancock, was named the national president of MADD Canada last year and attended Friday’s launch to lend her support. 

“DJ should have had his entire life ahead of him, he had dreams and aspirations and all of that was stolen from him because somebody made that choice and got behind the wheel impaired,” she said. “It’s not an accident, it doesn’t just happen, it’s a choice somebody makes.”

Jaymie-Lyne joined others from MADD Canada by handing out red ribbons to motorists on Friday as a symbol of support and a reminder to spread the word about ways of avoiding impaired driving. 

Reflecting on the continued prominence of impaired drivers on city streets, she said “people just continue to make bad choices, unfortunately.”

Continued awareness and police presence will help, she said, adding that the 2018 allowance for police to conduct mandatory alcohol screening at the roadside has offered a significant boost to their ability to identify impaired drivers. 

While Pedersen said the Festive RIDE program remains unchanged from previous years, the Safe Ride Home Sudbury’s key efforts will not take place this year.

This community effort typically has volunteers drive Sudburians and their vehicles home to prevent potential instances of impaired driving, but was cancelled due to safety concerns related to the pandemic. 

“We just want everyone to plan ahead and even though Safe Ride Home Sudbury isn’t an option this season, it’s just one of many,” organization president and founder Lesli Green said, pointing to designated drivers, calling a friend, calling a cab and spending the night as viable options.

“We just want everybody to make the responsible choice to save lives.”

Action Sudbury, which has operated in Greater Sudbury since 1984 to promote a “Drive aware, not impaired” message, is closing in April 2022. 

Organization chair Ron Roy offered parting remarks during Friday’s gathering, and also made a plea for people to report suspected cases of impaired driving to police by phoning 911. 

There’s an exemption in the Highway Traffic Act that allows people to use their phones to dial 911 in emergent situations, and Pedersen affirmed that suspected cases of impaired driving are, in fact, emergencies.

“Our officers will respond and we will do our best to make the apprehensions that are necessary.”

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for