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drinking and driving

This article originally ran in December 2012, but with the RIDE program in full force during the holiday season, it is an important reminder.

Telltale Signs: Toronto RIDE program officers have identified a number of behaviours that give away an impaired driver. Among them: weaving, gum-chewing, driving with open windows in cold weather, failing to turn on headlights, evasive responses to questions, leaning away from the window when questioned, and rolling down the rear window instead of the front when questioned by police.

Bad Strategies: If you see a RIDE program in front of you, it's best to continue forward – police watch for drivers who back up, make U-turns or turn onto side streets to avoid RIDE program stops. These drivers are pursued by backup units, and run an increased chance of roadside testing, since avoiding a stop is a common sign of impaired driving.

The Tests: If police suspect that you've been drinking, they may ask you to blow into a small roadside screening device. Like a home-pregnancy test, this device is not conclusive, but is used to determine which drivers will be subjected to further testing. If a screening sample shows a blood-alcohol reading of more than 1.0, drivers are asked to take a test on a calibrated, court-approved machine called the Intoxilyzer.

The Numbers: A blood-alcohol reading of more than .08 on the Intoxilyzer will result in a criminal charge. (You can pass the roadside screening with a reading of .099, since the testing device is not as precise – police allow a .02 margin of error.)

Going Big: Toronto police tested one driver with a blood-alcohol level of .45 – nearly six times the legal limit. Another driver (who stood six and a half feet tall and weighed 240 pounds) was tested at .41 after an evening of scotch drinking. Twenty-four hours after his arrest, the driver was still above the legal limit.

For the Non-Drinker: Drivers suspected of drug use are screened with roadside tests like walking a line, standing on one foot, and following a police officer's fingers with their eyes while keeping their head motionless. If they fail, they are taken to a police station to supply a urine sample that will be used as evidence.

When: RIDE programs run year-round, but operations are stepped up sharply during the holiday season (Nov. 23 to Jan. 1). Last year, police set up 556 locations.

Where: Police often target locations that are known for impaired driving, such as major sporting events and bar districts. RIDE locations are switched regularly to prevent drivers from avoiding roadside checks.

The Odds: Police stop nearly 100,000 vehicles during the 37-day holiday RIDE season. Last year, police selected 2,552 drivers for Breathalyzer testing. Of these, 123 were charged with impaired driving.

The Price: The estimated average cost of a conviction arising from a RIDE program stop is $18,000. This includes towing, car impound fees, legal costs, court-imposed fines, and increased insurance premiums.

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