A breathalyzer shows a failed test. Drivers stopped at RCMP check stops can expect a mandatory breathalyzer test for the remainder of the holiday season. (RCMP handout)

A breathalyzer shows a failed test. Drivers stopped at RCMP check stops can expect a mandatory breathalyzer test for the remainder of the holiday season. (RCMP handout)

Breathalyzer testing mandatory at RCMP check stops this month

Impaired driving one of the “largest issues” on Yukon roads, police say

Drivers stopped at RCMP check stops can expect a mandatory breathalyzer test for the remainder of the holiday season.

“We’re definitely using it more at check stops — just checking everyone going through,” said RCMP Cpl. Natasha Dunmall.

Yukon RCMP have ramped up check stops in December in Whitehorse and surrounding areas, including on the major highways as far as 20 minutes outside of downtown. Drivers may also be pulled over and asked to provide a breath sample in a “rolling check stop”.

The decision to require a breathalyzer test from every driver is partially due to the pandemic.

“With COVID-19 you have people wearing masks now, and we don’t want to detain someone on the side of the road longer than we need to,” Dunmall said.

The breathalyzer test, conducted with an approved screening device (ASD), allows drivers to be tested without leaving their vehicle, she explained.

Dunmall added that COVID-19 isn’t the only reason testing is now mandatory. There’s also hope that the mandatory testing will deter drivers from drinking. When a driver has been stopped for a breathalyzer test they’re likely to warn their friends, potentially stopping others from hitting the road after drinking, Dunmall said.

“If I can take a driver off the road before they leave the house, that has equal value, to me, as taking an impaired driver off the road,” Dunmall said.

Police officers have had the power to demand a breath sample without reasonable suspicion of intoxication since a federal rule change in December 2018.

According to Dunmall, drinking and driving is a sustained problem in the Yukon necessitating more aggressive breathalyzer testing.

“It’s definitely one of our largest issues when it comes to road safety,” Dunmall said.

“We’re seeing it with alcohol impairment, and seeing more cannabis impairment.”

About 30 per cent of intoxicated drivers stopped in the first half of December were intoxicated by cannabis, Dunmall estimated. A number of drivers were found to be “hot-boxing” vehicles while on the road, with passengers smoking marijuana in the enclosed car.

“There’s a lot of education going with that, that you’re impaired via your passengers,” Dunmall said.

A breathalyzer test won’t prove intoxication from cannabis, so drivers are subject to a ‘standardized field sobriety test’ which takes place outside the vehicle. A drug recognition expert is then called to the scene, who will commonly test blood pressure, body temperature, pulse and pupil size.

Drivers who have consumed alcohol are subject to a criminal code charge if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is higher than 0.08, but a driver doesn’t have to test that high to be charged with impaired driving, Dunmall explained.

If police pull over a person driving erratically or dangerously, they can be charged with impaired driving with any BAC level.

“You can still be impaired and be under 0.08 because our bodies all metabolize alcohol differently,” Dunmall explained.

“The onus is on the police to prove your driving was impaired by alcohol.”

Under the new rules established in 2018, drivers facing their first impaired offense will be fined $1,000. That fine increases to $1,500 for a BAC of 0.12 and $2,000 for a BAC of 0.16. Refusing the request to provide a breath sample will result in a $2,000 fine.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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