BONNYVILLE — Alberta needs tougher drunk-driving laws to cut down on fatal accidents on the province’s highways, says an official with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“Alberta has refused to move on very strategic legislative initiatives that most of the other provinces have moved on,” Andrew Murie, chief executive of the agency, said Friday.
He recently met with the province’s solicitor general, but said there seems to be little appetite in Alberta to adopt stricter measures.
Impaired driving is being investigated by police as a possible factor in two separate collisions this week that killed several family members.
In the latest crash late Thursday night, a man, his common-law wife and her two daughters died when their car collided head-on with a pickup truck on a rural highway in northeastern Alberta.
Ivan Charles Paul, 51; Frances (Stella) Yvonne Gadwa, 35; Alexis Josephine Gadwa, 15; and Sarah Margaret Gadwa, 14, were all from the Kehewin Cree Nation near Bonnyville.
The pickup’s driver, a 42-year-old man from Bonnyville, was taken to hospital to be treated for non-life threatening injuries.
The family was driving to the hospital in Bonnyville because Sarah wasn’t feeling well and they hadn’t gotten very far when the crash happened, said Lisa Youngchief, a friend of the family.
Another collision in Southern Alberta earlier this week killed five people, including a man and his three young children. The truck they were in collided with a backhoe. The truck was filled with beer cans.
Murie said Alberta needs to combine public awareness campaigns with stricter laws to crack down on drinking and driving.
Some provinces such as Ontario and Prince Edward Island give lengthy roadside suspensions for drivers who blow more than .05, even though under the Criminal Code the legal limit is .08, Murie said.
“What happens is, you lose your licence, and, it depends on which province, (it’s) a minimum of three days up to seven days, right on the spot. There’s no criminal proceedings with it.
“They have made incredible inroads . . . it makes the public much more accountable before they get behind the wheel of the car when they’ve been drinking.”
Drivers who’ve received their first impaired driving conviction in Alberta should be required to have special equipment in their vehicle, which doesn’t allow the ignition to work if they don’t pass a breathalyzer attached to the car, Murie said.
Those regulations in British Columbia have saved lives, Murie said.
“Right now in Alberta, it’s not mandatory until you’ve been charged twice. Why do you get a free ride when you have technology that stops people from drinking and driving?”
Paul Oss of Alberta Transportation defended the measures the province has to deal with impaired drivers.
Rather than handing out lengthy roadside suspensions, the Alberta government wanted more flexibility on the issue to make sure it’s the impaired driver who is really being punished, Oss said.
According to figures from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, of the more than 3,000 people killed in collisions across Canada in 2006, at least 1,278 involved impaired driving.
According to statistics compiled by RCMP in Alberta, there have been 28 fatal collisions so far this month — with 13 deaths in just the past few days alone.
Fifteen of those collisions may have involved drugs or alcohol.
The number of impaired driving-related collisions has stayed steady for the last few years in Alberta, something that is of concern for Insp. James Stiles, the officer in charge of traffic services for the RCMP.
Police and community agencies have hammered home the anti-drinking and driving message so Stiles isn’t sure why the number of impaired driving-related collisions isn’t dropping.
Louise Knox, 42, of Spruce Grove, Alta., knows what it’s like to have her world shattered by a drunk driver. In fact, it’s happened to her family three times.
In 1999, her son Mike was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver near St. Paul, Alta., northeast of Edmonton.
In 2007, her youngest son Eric, who was just 17 at the time, was in a vehicle being driven by a drunk driver. The vehicle rolled, killing a young man who was a passenger. Earlier this year, the driver received a four-year jail sentence after being convicted of impaired driving causing death but will be eligible for parole in September.
That same year, Knox was sitting at a stoplight in Edmonton when her vehicle and several others were sideswiped by an impaired driver, who then fled. Several of the drivers, including Knox, followed him until police could apprehend him. The driver was sentenced to a one-year jail term.
— By Lisa Arrowsmith in Edmonton