Five Red Deer children and their caregiver look at the camera. They dutifully smile because it’s what most of us do when we pose for a photograph. But their smiles belie a horrible reality — these children will grow up without their parents. Their mom and dad, Brad and Krista Howe, died a year ago when a drunk driver plowed into their car.
Red Deer mourns for them. A group of dedicated family, friends and volunteers try to help their remarkable aunt, Karla Green, 34. Green, an independent woman until a year ago, stepped in to do what no person should ever have to do, raise five children orphaned by a drunk driver.
Sadly, this family is not alone. Last year, at least three other Red Deer families lost loved ones in accidents where alcohol may have been a factor. Across the country this same tragedy is played out again and again. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports that in 2008, at least 1,162 Canadians died in impaired-driving related accidents.
This makes us angry. We want justice. We demand that our governments get tough with drunk drivers who cause this grief, and who rob family and friends of their loved ones.
MADD reports that a Goldfarb Consultants study in 2000 showed that 93 per cent of respondents were concerned about the number of Canadians who drink or drive, and 55 per cent said laws were not tough enough on drunk drivers.
Yet is each of us doing enough to stop the carnage?
In that same Goldfarb study, 40 per cent of respondents admitted to driving a vehicle when they thought they were over the legal limit, and 78 per cent of Canadians admitted to personally knowing someone who drove while over the legal limit.
A Goldfarb study in 2002 on drinking and driving habits reported that in the previous 12 months, one in 10 respondents admitted to getting behind the wheel when they thought they were over the blood-alcohol limit. An alarming one in three admitted to getting into a car driven by someone they thought was over the legal limit for alcohol consumption in the previous year.
Getting tough with drunk drivers is not enough. That will not bring back the victims of those drivers. By the time it gets to the courts, it is too late.
It is not surprising that people who have been drinking do not make good decisions. That’s why each of us has a personal responsibility to plan alternate transportation when we plan to drink, to keep other drinkers off the road, and to promptly call police if those drinkers get behind the wheel.
That means every time you watch someone who has been drinking leave your house, stumble away from a drinking establishment or get into a car when they had too much to drink, it’s time for you act.
You can call them a cab, offer them a ride and, if those efforts fail, call police.
Families of drunk drivers once suffered their pain in silence. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving are changing that. MADD is also lobbying people to call 911 to report suspected drunk drivers.
Drunk driving is 100 per cent preventable. To make this happen every one of us has to have zero tolerance for drinking and driving.
It is heart-breaking that it is too late for Brad and Krista Howe and their children.
Carolyn Martindale is the Advocate’s city editor.