It's 7 p.m. on a Friday and group of Delta police officers is getting ready for the night's shift.
After a few last minute instructions from A/Sgt. Rob Kennett and Sgt. Kevin Jones, who heads the department's traffic unit, Kennett and the six officers head out. The team has a singular mission on this night - taking, and keeping, impaired drivers off Delta's roads.
This particular night (Dec. 16) happens to fall on the last full weekend before Christmas, one of the busiest for seasonal celebrations.
The officers head out to a stretch of River Road between Ladner and North Delta to set up another CounterAttack roadblock.
Between mid-November and New Year's Eve, Delta police, and departments around the Lower Mainland and across the country, are out in force in an annual campaign to reduce the number of impaired drivers.
"A big part of this is deterrence," says Jones. "These kinds of things save lives."
On this night, the officers are out early, stopping cars heading in both directions in the 7900-block of River Road. Another officer is stationed a few hundred metres away looking for drivers trying to avoid the roadblock.
While the roadblocks are generally set up in an area that makes it difficult to circumvent, some drivers will simply pull a U-turn and head back the way they came.
That happens more than once early on. After stopping one U-turning vehicle, the officer finds the driver impaired by drugs.
Another driver turning around tells the officer he thought it was a crash - a common occurrence, says Jones.
Back at the roadblock, officers ask drivers a few questions - "Where are you heading?" "Where have you been?" "Have you had anything to drink tonight?" - in order to make a quick assessment.
Jones says they're looking for any indication the driver is impaired - glassy, red eyes, slurred speech, an odour of alcohol. Anyone suspected of being impaired is pulled over and asked to provide a breath sample.
On this particular night, officers check several hundred drivers at two locations. Of the 15 drivers asked to give a breath sample, all pass.
Jones says this is "very out of the ordinary."
"It means that the IRP program (the new impaired driving legislation) is working."
Jones says in order to make a demand for a breath sample, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion a driver has been drinking - such as an odour of alcohol or someone admitting alcohol was consumed prior to driving.
He says the fact none of the drivers asked to give a breath sample blew a "warn" or "fail" means people are stopping after one or two drinks if they know they're going to be getting behind the wheel.
"It means that people are drinking more responsibly," Jones says.
During last year's campaign, officers stopped about 4,800 vehicles and asked 51 drivers to take a breath test. Of those, 42 passed while nine registered a warn or a fail. Five drivers were issued three-day driving suspensions while the other four were handed 30-day driving bans.
Const. Ciaran Feenan, the department's media officer, says drivers who blow in the warn range can either call someone to come and pick them up or officers will call a taxi to take them home. Drivers who blow in the fail range are typically taken back to the detachment for further breath tests to get a precise reading of their blood alcohol level.
B.C.'s tougher impaired driving penalties, which have been in place for a little over a year, mean drivers caught in the "warn" range (which indicates a blood alcohol level of between .05 and .08) face a three-day driving suspension and a $200 fine for the first offence. Getting caught a second time in the "warn" range within five years will garner a seven-day ban and a $300 fine; a third will mean a 30-day ban and a $400 fine.
The new regulations also include stiffer penalties for drivers who register a "fail" (.10 or higher), however, last month a B.C. Supreme Court judge struck down that part of the legislation because the appeal process for anyone penalized under the new legislation is not adequate.
Since the ruling, Jones says, officers have been acting in good faith and not handing out those penalties to drivers.
However, on Dec. 23 B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson issued a follow up judgement suspending the implementation of his decision until June 30.
Even with the new penalties suspended, drivers with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit can be arrested and charged with driving over .08 or impaired driving and could be subject to a 90day driving prohibition.
In addition to trying to track down impaired drivers, Feenan says officers are also on the lookout for other motor vehicle infractions - like driving without valid insurance or not wearing a seatbelt.
On this night, officers hand out 15 tickets for violations, including driving without a licence and not having insurance, and six notices for defects to vehicles.
Social media has thrown a new element into the war on drinking and driving as some Twitter users have been tweeting the locations of roadblocks around the region.
Many who are doing it claim it will also act as a deterrent to anyone thinking of getting behind the wheel after a few drinks - if they know the roadblocks are out there they will be more likely to find another way home.
Feenan, however, sees things a little differently.
"The roadblocks are here to keep people safe," he says. "That's not helping us deter impaired drivers."
And while police are aware some Twitter users are doing this, there's little that can be done to stop the practice.
"We would ask the public not to do it."
As this year's holiday season, and the annual CounterAttack campaign, winds down, officers will still be out in force until Jan. 1 looking to make sure everyone makes it home safely.
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