Roadside Breathalyzer blitzes are nobody’s idea of a super-fun holiday activity.
But a firestorm has erupted on Twitter in recent days over the legality and morality of tweeting police RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) stop locations, thanks to a handful of Toronto-area social media users.
Tweeting in one corner: Aggregator feeds like @RIDELocationsTO, which collect and re-broadcast information on where police are conducting drunk-driving spot-checks.
“On Boxing Day, don’t drink and drive, and use #RIDE #RIDEProgram #RIDEChecks #checkstop hashtags to alert others to traffic delays,” reads one recent message posted to that account.
Tweeting in the opposite corner: dismayed social media buffs such as Toronto police traffic Sgt. Tim Burrows.
“If you tweet a #RIDE location tonight, make sure you also apologize tomorrow to any families who lose a loved one to a drunk driver,” he posted on Christmas Eve.
Tweeting or otherwise broadcasting RIDE locations is not illegal, says Const. Scott Mills, Toronto police’s social media officer. But “they’re called random spot checks for a reason,” he says. Tweeting RIDE locations “gives somebody the chance to avoid detection. The end result is we have another drunk driver on the road.”
Burrows was the first to take on RIDE-location tweeters. But the issue was fanned by Corey Mintz, the Star’s food columnist, who saw Burrows’ tweet and decided to directly name those who posted RIDE locations over Christmas Eve night.
“It seemed ghastly that Torontonians would do this, not for the reasonable motivation of avoiding traffic slowdowns, but . . . for the express purpose of enabling intoxicated drivers,” Mintz says, recalling that one used the hashtag #avoidifhammered.
Most of those whom Mintz named deleted their posts and apologized. But a few were unrepentant, and the number of city-specific aggregator feeds such as @RoadblocksBC and @edmtrafficalert has only grown over the past week.
The Twitter user behind the profile @calgarychecksto, who would not provide a real name, says he is undeterred by such public shamings. The rationale behind his feed is “giving responsible people better odds at avoiding the scarlet letter that comes even with a 24hr susp(ension).”
“This twitter feed is for the people who know they are ok to drive, yet have no idea what .05 is,” referring to the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit. He also added that since living through the drunk-driving death of a loved one, he never drives after consuming more than three drinks.
In Ontario, drivers with a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08 receive an immediate suspension, which increases if the driver is caught multiple times. Drivers whose BAC is over 0.08 are slapped with a criminal charge.
Mills says Toronto police are using social media to their benefit in the current Twitter firestorm by encouraging followers to tweet anti-drunk-driving sentiments with the hashtags promoted by those who publicize RIDE locations.
“It’s not for the police to censor what people say. But when somebody says something that’s irresponsible, the court of public opinion pretty much convicts the person.”