As Ontarians start gathering with loved ones for the holidays, police authorities are back with an annual plea.
“If you drink, don’t drive. If you drive, don’t drink. It’s very simple,” said Sgt. Kerry Schmidt of OPP’s Highway Safety Division on Thursday.
Simple, yet all too often ignored.
The consequences of impaired driving are all too familiar to many first responders — and to Kathy Mitchell.
“I was awoken by a phone call from my nephew telling me that Ashley had been killed in a crash,” said Mitchell, former president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) York Region.
Ashley was Mitchell’s niece.
The 2011 crash that claimed the woman’s life involved an impaired driver, and was absolutely preventable, said Mitchell.
“Watching my nephew, my niece, my sister cope and deal with the tragedy, it was heartbreaking,” she said. “And it still is today. It’s a life sentence.”
On Thursday, Mitchell channeled strength through that heartbreak and stood alongside the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), York Regional Police, and the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to launch the annual Festive RIDE campaign from the Cardinal Golf Club in King, Ont.
“Impaired driving continues to be one of the leading causes of death and injury on our highways. We have seen an increase this year, compared to the last 5 years, in impaired collisions and charges,” said Schmidt.
So far this year, 42 people have been killed in impaired crashes in areas under OPP’s jurisdiction.
In the last decade, 614 people in Ontario lost their lives to an impaired driver.
Officials say the ripple effect is felt by everyone, but there is an added layer of trauma to emergency personnel.
“We’re often one of the first responders on scene at these accidents,” said Chris Spearen, Chief of York Region Paramedic Services.
“We’re responsible for caring for the patient from the time that we actually arrive on scene till the time that they get transferred at the hospital.”
“This has devastating consequences for our community, but for our paramedics and first responders, it has tremendous impacts on their well-being and mental health as well.”
Schmidt says you can expect mobile patrols and ride checks from every municipal police service in Ontario as the Festive RIDE continues until New Year’s Day.
After that, police services will still be conducting ride checks year-round.
Back at the Cardinal Golf Club, Mitchell clutches her button with a picture of Ashley printed on it.
“It drives me to memorialize her, and to have people aware that there are real faces to these tragedies.”
Mitchell says preventing impaired driving should be a choice drivers make every day of the year.
“Take a cab. Take an Uber. Take a bus. Arrange for a designated driver. It is that simple.”