By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 11, 2024.
With another holiday season in the books, so too has MADD’s (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) annual Project Red Ribbon come to a close. Marking the end of the organization’s largest and longest running campaign, representatives from MADD, along with members of the Lethbridge Police Service (LPS), Alberta Sheriffs, and other law enforcement gathered at Cornerstone Funeral Home on Wednesday to recognize the success of the campaign.
Sergeant Danny Lomness of the LPS Traffic Response Unit addressed attendees announcing that the 2023 campaign saw 277 impaired drivers removed from Lethbridge streets, a 10 per cent increase from the 251 charges laid in 2022. “These numbers serve as a reminder than impaired driving remains a significant concern, while also highlighting the effectiveness of our proactive enforcement strategies,” says Lomness, who described the increase as a “testament to our dedication and relentless efforts to combat impaired driving.”
While the number of apprehended impaired drivers did increase compared to 2022, Lomness explained that newly acquired drug screening technology and more officers undergoing enhanced drug impairment training is to thank.
“I believe the increase in those numbers is strictly based on strategies and tactics that we deployed this year that allows officers to cover more area as well as check more drivers more efficiently.” LPS plans to have more officers undergo the training in 2024.
Lomness said that while harder drugs are a main concern and can often have harsher effects, “people under the influence of marijuana are just as dangerous as somebody under a different drug if they’re impaired.”
However, alcohol remains the cause of the majority of impairment he sees. Quoting the MADD website, Lomness said “driving is a privilege not a right. Impaired crashes are not accidents but rather the direct result of an individual’s conscious decision to drive after drinking or using drugs,” adding, “I want to emphasize that the Lethbridge Police Service is fully committed to ensuring the safety of all road users by removing impaired drivers from our streets.”
MADD president for Lethbridge and area, Anita Huchala, spoke on behalf of her chapter to highlight some achievements of the 2023 Project Red Ribbon campaign, sharing that 4,500 red ribbons and 2,600 window clings with donation boxes were distributed throughout southern Alberta. Though they have yet to tally the donations, Huchala said donations will go towards funding support services, educational presentations, and awareness events.
Huchala shared one of the successes of the 2023 campaign was the movement to raise awareness by illuminate Canadian landmarks in red lighting that saw national participation from Port Coquitlam B.C. to Charlottetown, PEI.
She said that while Project Red Ribbon is their most notable campaign, there’s always more to come.
“We never stop. As much as this is technically our wrap-up of our largest campaign, we never stop trying to bring awareness to impaired driving and the dangers of it.”
The face of this year’s project is Beryl Hansen, a 59-year-old woman from Manitoba who, in 1999, was struck and killed by a 19-year-old driver while on a routine morning walk.
LPS and Project Red Ribbon remind everyone that impaired driving can be avoided and recommend:
â€¢ Never get behind the wheel while impaired,
â€¢ Do not accept a ride from a driver who is impaired,
â€¢ Always plan ahead before going out,
â€¢If impaired, stay the night, contact a sober driver, or call a ride service or taxi,
â€¢ Call 911 or local police if you see a driver you suspect to be impaired.