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Warmer weather has highway cops hopping

More drunk, distracted drivers on Manitoba roads

Const. Justin Boileau speaks with a motorist RCMP pulled over on the Perimeter Highway on May 9.

JAMES TURNER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Const. Justin Boileau speaks with a motorist RCMP pulled over on the Perimeter Highway on May 9.

Tuesday marked the start of Canada Road Safety Week -- a nationwide police effort aimed at creating safer streets across the country. Until May 19, Manitoba's police say they'll make a concerted effort to crack down on impaired driving, seatbelt violations, cellphone use and speeding. RCMP recently invited the Free Press on a ride-along to glimpse the state of our rural roadways and the work involved in policing them.

RCMP Const. Justin Boileau doesn't have time tonight for lengthy introductions or welcomes.

It's just about an hour into the Selkirk traffic services officer's evening shift, doing enforcement around the East St. Paul area, and already it's go, go, go.

"Hop in," he says, waving a reporter over to his unmarked cruiser. "We have a '78' (impaired driving) complaint already."

The pace will stay this way for hours.

The drunk-driving call sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. A motorist was spotted on the Perimeter Highway, clutching a liquor bottle and grinning at people while barrelling along at 129 km/h.

"Tonight might be a good night for you to come out because it's warm," Boileau says.

Given it's the start of a warm weekend in May, it's expected many will be heading out on the highways to get to cottages.

"They like to have a few road rockets before they go," says the seven-year cop.

He radios his colleague, Const. Jareth Blais-Renaud, for an update on where the suspected drunk could be headed.

Blais-Renaud, however, gets sidetracked at Grassmere Road by a van with a driver who blew a "warn" on an approved roadside screening device. The suspected presence of an amount of alcohol in his body nets him a 24-hour suspension.

"You can see that it doesn't take a nighttime to get alcohol-related stuff," says Boileau.

Of the 80-plus fatal collisions RCMP will investigate in Manitoba each year, 40 per cent will involve impaired drivers.

Boileau admits he takes investigating the crime somewhat personally.

"All it takes is a split second and it's a car crash instead of us catching them," he says of impaired driving.

"It's preventable, yet people just don't stop doing it."

Unfortunately, the bemused bottle-waving driver gets lost in traffic and can't be located. It's believed he turned off the Perimeter and headed into northwest Winnipeg.

A twinge of disappointment seems to come over Boileau when they have to abandon the call, barring further information coming in.

But the night is young: There's still the speeders, cellphone-users and drivers who don't wear seatbelts to contend with.

Boileau, Blais-Renaud and Const. Daniel Demchuk elect to set up a speed trap along the Perimeter Highway at the Main Street overpass.

Using a laser speed gun, Demchuk stealthily sets up on an embankment, radioing to Boileau and Blais-Renaud the descriptions of cars passing him that break the 100 km/h limit. The trio soon has several drivers pulled over in a line.

Among their notable catches: a woman on a motorbike doing 128 km/h, netting a $429.75 fine.

A black Camaro blasts by at 149 km/h -- but road noise prevents the officers from hearing Demchuk voice the call over the radio. Blais-Renaud takes off after the car, but it's too late to nab the driver.

Despite all the technology the crew is using to catch speeders, the most lucrative stop at this setup site comes when Const. Darryl Berube turns up. Using an inexpensive pair of binoculars, he spots a man in a truck using his cellphone and jets off after him.

Ultimately, the driver will be cited not just for distracted driving but also having a suspended driver's licence and failing to produce a licence.

He also blows a "warn" on the alcohol screening device. He's losing the use of his truck for a few days.

Soon after, the officers call an end to the operation, electing to roam in their cars near the Highway 59 weigh station.

The sophisticated radar gear in Boileau's cruiser keeps whining warnings to him of people speeding by.

He pulls over one young man in a Kia, who admits doing 115 km/h in the 90 km/h zone.

"Too bad he's still wrong," Boileau says as he writes out a ticket for $508.75 for going 125 km/h. "There goes a week's pay."

"Most people understand we're just doing our job," he says of the affable speeder. "It feels good when they're polite."

Boileau says he hopes the general public sees the public good in him and his colleagues doing road-safety work.

"It's not that we're picking on them," he says. "We're just trying to change behaviours. Hopefully they come away with greater respect for what we do."

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

 

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