Last week, the province unveiled its first official memorial to a victim of impaired driving.
The sign remembers Alfred Benary, who died in a collision on Highway 22 north of the TransCanada Highway, and is a grim reminder that too many lives continue to be lost because people continue to drive while under the influence.
In 2018, 14 people were killed in an accident where a driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol – bringing the five-year tally to 114 – according to Statistics Canada. It's astonishing the number of deaths is not higher. In that same time period, 63,000 impaired driving violations were handed out across the province. It's nice to see the overall trend has decreased, but Alberta continues to have rates of people driving under the influence significantly higher than the national average. In Cochrane, in 2018, the rate of people getting behind the wheel intoxicated was more than three times the national average.
The selfishness and complete lack of thought that it takes to get behind the wheel high or drunk is something we should all be furious about. It's an act that we must also actively combat. If you see someone drunk or high get behind the wheel, call the police. It doesn't matter who they are, friends, family or strangers. Regardless of the relationship, you might be saving their's or someone else's life.
Benary's widow, Adele Dirks, said it best during the unveiling of the sign.
“One person’s senseless action took Fred away from his family forever. With this memorial, we pay tribute to him, but we also want it to be something people see and remember so that they never take the chance of driving impaired and imposing this terrible loss and grief on another family.”
While there are many makeshift memorial monuments at the scene of accidents along many major provincial roadways, the official recognition by the Government of Alberta demonstrates its awareness of the seriousness of this issue. There should be at least one other official memorial along that stretch of road. The other should recognize Cochrane's Brandon Thomas who was killed by a drunk driver in 2012. Thomas' mother, Kim, has been a tireless combater of drinking and driving. Every year since 2014, Show your Ride for Brandon has worked to raise awareness about impaired driving and raise funds for Cochrane High and SAIT scholarships, and the Show Your Ride for Brandon Victims Fund.
That being said, while it's a touching and important tribute, monuments don't save lives. There have been no shortages of awareness and prevention campaigns over the years and still too many people get behind the wheel putting other lives in danger. The province needs to allocate the resources and toughen the laws in order to make driving under the influence, unthinkable.
While controversial, the implementation of mandatory alcohol and drug screening during roadside stops puts drivers on notice that there is zero-tolerance for stupid and life-threatening behaviour. Many believe the move is a violation of their rights, but driving is not a right, it's a privilege.