Opinion » Editorial

Taking back our roads



Whistler has been much in the news lately.

From the tragic stabbing death of 19-year-old Luka Gordic on the May long weekend, to the life-shattering deaths of road cyclists Kelly Blunden and Ross Chafe, and the near-death experience of long-time Whistler Search and Rescue member Jai Condon rescued after a freak climbing accident near Squamish last weekend.

Then, as the community was reeling from these events, a new health survey administered in 30 B.C. communities by local health authorities found that we had the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of binge drinkers.

It felt like the whole town was being pushed down.

To then find out that police suspect the driver of the car who hit and killed Blunden and Chafe was impaired, and that according to investigation done by CBC he has multiple previous driving convictions and may have been driving while prohibited, the collective despair was pushed into a type of rage.

There is no doubt that B.C. has the toughest impaired-driving laws in the country, and that following the introduction of the Roadside Prohibition Program in 2010 the roads are safer. But there is only so much the authorities can do.

Communities must also play a role in preventing the kind of accident that took the lives of two Whistler dads, coaches and mentors, as well as the life of Paul Pierre Jr., 52, of the Lil'wat Nation — the passenger in the car involved in the accident.

Friends, business owners, parents and even strangers need to step up if they believe someone is too impaired to drive.

Lives would be much different today if someone had stepped forward and stopped the suspected drunk driver involved in this incident from heading out onto the highway last Sunday, May 31.

If you don't want the confrontation, call the police. They would certainly far rather chase down a suspected impaired driver than attend an accident scene where three people lost their lives so horrifically.

In some cases local RCMP is arriving at scenes where victims are known to them. Just stop and think about that for a moment.

If it is confirmed that the driver (Pique is not naming him as no charges have been laid by press time) was under a driving prohibition, there was little more the justice system could have done.

And, in fact, the overhaul to the impaired driving laws was done in part to move away from the court system.

The idea was to allow police agencies and the superintendent of motor vehicles to use a system of automatic, and in some cases, immediate penalties to get drivers off the road.

But what do you do about the drivers who don't care about the laws, don't care about the prohibitions and just keep driving? And how do you reach the friends, family and community of that person to ask them to step up, and step in, to keep that person from driving?

According to ICBC, in an average year 86 people die in motor vehicle crashes involving impaired driving. Impairment remains in the top three contributing factors for fatal car crashes with about 27 per cent of motor vehicle fatalities related to impaired driving. Fifty-nine per cent occur on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

Almost half (43 per cent) take place between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. with 16-to-25-year-olds accounting for the highest number of impaired drivers in crashes (31 per cent). Males account for 71 per cent of all impaired drivers.

Under the new impaired driving regulations, as of June 30, 2014, the program has contributed to an estimated 227 lives saved and a 54-per-cent reduction in alcohol-related fatalities.

Cold comfort to the three families suffering from this latest tragedy, but it must be seen as a step in the right direction.

Whistler's own RCMP is responsible for taking its fair share of impaired drivers off the road. Last month RCMP Cst. Bridgette Lens was recognized for removing 27 impaired drivers from the roads in 2014.

It is both jarring and sobering to lose valued members of the community to a suspected drunk driver in the same week that it is revealed that our rates of binge drinking are double the national average.

But the survey also revealed that Whistler came first in feeling a sense of community belonging, at 82.3 per cent.

Let's embrace that finding and reach out to those who need support.

And, as the summer gets underway, let's share the road safely. Let's do what we can to make sure that all stakeholders know the road conditions for the thousands of cyclists who ride the Sea to Sky need to be improved, and let's honour the legacy of the amazing dads, coaches, athletes and mentors whos lost their lives on May 31.