July 16th, 2024

Residents are reminded to stay sober while driving this weekend


By Justin Sibbet - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on June 29, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDjsibbet@lethbridgeherald.com

This Canada Day long weekend will likely end in a bang, but residents are urged to ensure that bang comes from fireworks and not their vehicles.

Impaired driving, whether it be from alcohol, drugs or a phone, can cause serious and lifelong damages, if not worse.

Steve Sullivan, CEO of MADD Canada, says nobody ever thinks this issue will impact them, until they are in a wreck, or they receive a dreaded phone call that they’re loved one was killed.

“I work with people every day who didn’t think they were going to be the one who lost a loved one… but it happens to somebody every day,” said Sullivan.

He also cautions against getting behind the wheel unless you are genuinely sober, no matter if you are a celebrity or a wallflower.

“Anybody can be caught driving impaired.”

He says it may cost you, “maybe $20, $30” to call a cab or rideshare, but it is far cheaper than the alternative.

“Your tickets, your fines, your legal costs and that’s if you don’t get into a crash,” said Sullivan. “So, the $20 or $30 or $40 it’ll cost you to get to or from… it’s money well spent.”

Anita Huchala, president and victim support volunteer from the MADD Lethbridge and area chapter, says there is no excuse for driving while under the influence.

“We have plenty of taxi services, we have Uber here in Lethbridge or a designated driver,” said Huchala.

“Always plan that sober ride home before you partake in any drinking or (similar activity).”

According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), drugs and alcohol are present in approximately half of all fatalities involving drivers under 24-years-old, but over 20.

While older drivers are by no means immune to the effects of impaired driving, the higher numbers do indicate a larger concern for young drivers under the age of 30, with the highest rate between 20 and 24-years-old.

Robyn Robertson, president and CEO of TIRF, says drivers between 16 and 19 are seemingly more likely to obey the laws, though once they age out of their graduated drivers’ licences, they fall into the worst-ranked age category.

“When we think about younger people, they’ve got the message about drinking and driving or impaired driving (but) maybe not strongly enough,” said Robertson.

With Canada Day falling on a Monday this year, Huchata says it is crucial to ensure you are fully sober when you go into work on Tuesday morning, especially if you were up drinking late to celebrate Canada’s 157th anniversary.

“Maybe you do happen to take a sick day and stay home, or you stopped drinking a little bit earlier, so you know you are safe to make it to work,” said Huchata.

However, she says it is best to ere on the side of caution if you are in doubt. Sullivan, meanwhile, says this can be a challenge when you feel better after waking up from a dozy sleep.

“I think people assume that if they’ve had some sleep then they’ll be okay… but if you consumed a considerable amount, all that’s going to help is time,” said Sullivan. “I think if anyone has any concern… people tend to underestimate how impaired they are based on how they feel.”

He agrees with Huchata, saying it is far better to work from home or simply find another way to work if the alternative is driving impaired.

“Play it safe.”

Robertson also says the smartest move is to drive fully sober or not at all. She says people who have breathalyzer interlock systems installed in their vehicles tend to fail shortly after waking up.

“The most common time for them to fail actually is early morning hours,” said Robertson. “Officers will tell you they arrest impaired at seven, eight o’clock in the morning.”

She says there are numerous myths people will convince themselves are true to say they can confidently drive while inebriated.

“We often think, you know, I’ll take a cold shower, or I’ll drink coffee, I’ll do some exercise, but you can’t make those impairing substances leave your body any faster.”

Furthermore, she says combining cold remedies or any over-the-counter drug that causes drowsiness with alcohol is a recipe for disaster.

“There’s often an assumption that the impairment is the same no matter what substance you use,” said Robertson. “Actually, the ways that you are impaired can vary depending on (what you are using).”

According to a chart made available by TIRF, two drinks of alcohol with a cold remedy can give the effects of five to six alcoholic drinks. Furthermore, one cannabis joint with two drinks has around the same effect.

Huchata says it comes down to personal responsibility as driving impaired can cause more lives to be ruined than just your own.

“I feel almost like a broken record. Always plan ahead, think ahead, you’ve got to make sure that not only are you safe, but you’re thinking of others in the community.”

From Sullivan or Robertson, who are in eastern Canada, to Huchata, who is here in Lethbridge, the message is the same. No matter how you intend to celebrate Canada Day this weekend, stay sober and stay safe for your sake and the sake of those in your community.

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