To serve, protect — and ferry the drunks home.

 History may be repeating itself in many ways as police prepare for the inevitability of legalized marijuana, but that’s one impaired driving tactic you’re certainly never going to see on the streets of Calgary again: cops who will drive your drunken mess home, just for the asking.

That outstanding and now shocking example of police service was on offer to all Calgarians in the late 1960s, as Canada finally started to take drunk driving seriously by treating impaired motoring as more than a road infraction on par with speeding or failing to yield.

“Drivers who don’t feel able to drive can call police and have themselves and their car taken home,” is how the Christmas Eve “Drive-Home” program was explained to the press, by Calgary Police Chief Inspector J. C. Stagg.

It was December 16, 1969, and Stagg was fully expecting more motorists than ever to take advantage of the complementary police cab service, thanks to a twin assault on drunk driving spearheaded by Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa, and Social Credit Premier Harry Strom at home in Alberta.

In 1968, 14 drunks celebrating a little too hard at the traditional afternoon office party on Dec. 24 had called the cops demanding a lift home — and for ‘69, with breath tests made mandatory and 24-hour roadside suspensions possible, Stagg expected that number to soar.

“Six men have been assigned the task and more will be used if necessary,” Stagg told reporters.

Nearly a half-century later, the only drunken ride you can expect from the Calgary police comes with a complimentary pair of handcuffs, with impaired driving considered among the most serious of crimes, both by police and society.

And it’s not just alcohol.

With marijuana likely to be legalized next year, police are once again seeking reliable roadside testing devices, and the Alberta government this past week started a preemptive campaign against driving under the influence of pot, by equating its effects with those of alcohol.

Impaired driving is a big deal now, but that wasn’t the case before man landed on the Moon, and it took decades and countless needless injuries and deaths before alcohol and Detroit steel were seen as an unacceptable mix.

Sure, police officers prior to the late 1960s might nab you for driving drunk, but typically, the soused motorists could expect a modest fine and no criminal repercussions — and for that reason, most people willingly risked a few tipples prior to traffic.

Trudeau, father to current Canadian Prime Minister and legal-pot enthusiast Justin Trudeau, changed all that in ‘68, by making breath tests mandatory for any suspected drunk driver, with refusal to blow resulting in up to three months in jail.

The standard for drunkenness was set at 0.1%, meaning an average man could supposedly enjoy six drinks (!) before blowing over, according to the newspaper report, and the punishment was still pretty soft for a first offence, being mainly a matter of stiff fines, but the change in attitude was set.

Today, getting caught between .05% to .08% is enough to see a driver’s licence suspended and vehicle seized. Above that is a criminal offence.

Trudeau’s new law also paved the way to allow police to conduct breath tests at roadblocks, if drinking was suspected — a minor amendment that was to have a big impact in Alberta just a few years later, when the roadside breathalyzer was developed.

In November 1973, six Calgary police units set up across the city, armed with those portable breath test units.

It was the first day of a province-wide experiment, called Alberta Check Stop, that would see police stopping cars around the clock for the next few months, with the half-dozen units in Calgary shifting locations every hour or so.

Naturally, with that much manpower devoted to nabbing drunks, it worked like a charm — and more than 300,000 cars were checked in the first year, with more than 300 Calgary drivers charged with impaired driving over the 0.1% limit.

But police estimated there were four times as many motorists caught and given 24-hour suspensions under the “less serious” range of .08% to .099%, which by modern standards would add up to a total of 1,500 drunks, when Calgary’s population was only 425,000.

In 1974, it was decided Alberta Check Stop was a roaring success, and while the manpower to keep six units going each day simply did not exist, the roadblock method of catching drunk drivers continues in the province to this day.

Getting a free ride home from the police, sadly, does not.

Source: Calgary Sun


Last updated on: 2016-12-28 | Link to this post