Drink up and walk this line: Metro Halifax reporter spends day as RCMP test subject

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By Haley Ryan - Metro Halifax

HALIFAX - It didn’t take long for me to realize dark rum was a bad decision.

The red plastic cup was filled with ice and delicious spicy rum and cola, but I had to think about drinking more of these under the watchful gaze of Nova Scotia RCMP officers, all before noon.

So, I switched to orange juice and vodka. Basically breakfast.

It was 10 a.m. Wednesday when I, along with several other guinea pigs, was delivered to the RCMP headquarters on Oxford Street to participate in a field sobriety testing (FST) exercise as an intoxicated subject.

“It was basically the best bar in Halifax. I mean you just show up, they give you drinks and they’re like ‘Why isn’t he drunk enough?’” laughed fellow participant Brad Stout.

We were separated from the RCMP students until just after 2 p.m. so they wouldn’t be aware of how our behaviour had changed.

Our goal was to reach a blood alcohol level just above the legal driving limit, where drunken behaviour is the most difficult to detect.

The 16 police officers from across the province taking the four-day course were “keeners,” the ones who wanted to make impairment detection a specialty.

I blew into an Intoximeter machine after finishing five mixed drinks, which measured a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 108 milligrams of alcohol for 100 millilitres of blood – well above the charging threshold of 90 per 100 millilitres.

Then came the tests.

The RCMP students huddled in groups of four or five around their papers as they watched me walk a straight line, stand on one foot, and follow a pen with my eyes without moving my head.

I thought I did well, especially with the one-foot balancing, but keeping my hands at my sides and completing everything without stumbling, swaying or giggling proved impossible.

I didn’t pass.

Const. Kyle Doane said one of the most important things he learned was how an intoxicated eye “skitters” while following a moving pen.

Another officer described it as “dry wipers on a car windshield.”

“You can’t hide the jerking of the eyes, so that’s a tool now I’ll be able to use when I’m on the road,” said Doane.

By 3:15 p.m. we’d did one more breath test and learned how our BACs stacked up. We ranged from 97 to 162 milligrams, and our own class clown had some parting wisdom.

“It was fantastic. It was for science,” Stout said.

Police say driving after drugs produces same result as alcohol

Last year, the Nova Scotia RCMP charged 44 people with driving under the influence of drugs, a number Const. Mark Skinner said has been steadily increasing since 2008.

This week Skinner, who coordinates the drug recognition expert (DRE) program, helped test officers on how to determine if someone is driving impaired.

He said most people have gotten the message that drunk driving isn’t acceptable, but many continue to take drugs and get behind the wheel because they think it’s less of an effect.

“(They say) I didn’t know it would affect me this much, but unfortunately it does,” Skinner said.

Skinner said even if a drug has no smell, symptoms like slurred words or bloodshot eyes could prompt an officer to test a driver by the road, and take them back to headquarters where an interview with an expert would be carried out to test blood pressure, body temperature, pupil size or reaction to light.

Marijuana, the second-most common drug in arrests, still leaves people impaired six to eight hours after their actual high, Skinner said.

He said if people want to drive after drinking or using drugs, his advice is simply: don’t.

“Their actions have a result, not only with themselves but with other people,” Skinner said.

Organizations: RCMP

Geographic location: Oxford Street

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