Young drivers slowly getting the message, police say

Ever since Faryal Shah’s best friend was killed by an alleged drunk driver, she has worked tirelessly to spread the word against impaired driving.

A year later, her motivation hasn’t waned.

“I’m as intent getting the message out to my fellow students as I was on Day 1,” said Shah, 20.

Shortly after 20-year-old business student Arsh Brar died in a horrific crash at Shaganappi Trail and Country Hills Boulevard a year ago, Shah was spurred to action and founded the University of Calgary’s only anti-impaired driving club on campus.

Save An Innocent Life (SAIL), a name suggested by Brar’s mother, now aims to reach post-secondary students to encourage them to think twice before getting behind the wheel drunk.

Shah said most of the students she’s spoken to seem to be aware that it’s not acceptable to drink and drive, and that the consequences can be deadly.

But recent statistics from the Calgary Police Service show that young drivers still make up about a third of the total number of drivers charged with impaired driving. And the overall number has only decreased slightly over the last few years.

From Jan. 1 to Dec. 12, about 27 per cent of the drivers charged were between the ages of 18 and 25, or 449 of 1,657 drivers.

In the previous year, 27 per cent of the drivers charged were in that age group, or 485 of 1,804 drivers.

In 2010, 29 per cent or 493 of 1,712 drivers charged were 18 to 25 years old.

“The number is slowly declining, and obviously we want to see that continue,” said Const. Randy MacDonald of the traffic education unit.

“We’re trying to get to the next generation of drivers and hopefully, as time goes on, the message is going to be handed down even further.”

MacDonald said he’s been working closely with SAIL, MADD and AMA to try to curb drunk driving among younger drivers.

His unit is also working with SAIL and putting together public service announcements targeting drivers between 18 to 25 years old.

As a nod to SAIL, the police even named this year’s checkstop campaign after the club.

Together, the police and the club are trying to bring checkstops to the university campus area. They hope to bring a mangled vehicle that’s been involved in an alcohol-related crash to display at the university and get people thinking, MacDonald said.

Shah said she also wants to ramp up awareness efforts during known bar nights and end-of-semester celebrations.

“Campaigning for something like this is a work in progress, keeping up with the campus culture (of drinking), the bars, and everything,” she said.

MADD Canada national president Denise Dubyk said the efforts for SAIL are making a difference and firmly believes the younger generation who are growing up learning that drinking and driving can lead to lives lost are getting the message.

But sadly, there is still a population of young drivers who are still choosing to make that potentially deadly decision, she added.

“They feel they’re invincible, they feel that it’s not going to happen to them. But what happens if they cause a crash or injury or fatality?”

Before SAIL, Shah said she never thought she’d be mourning the loss of a friend to an alleged drunk driver. She said Brar, whom she met through a mutual friend and became close with through business classes, never drank.

In the early hours of Jan. 8, just four days after his 20th birthday and a day before school started, Brar was making the five-minute drive home from his friend’s house after a night of video games.

He was heading west on Country Hills Boulevard in his beloved Mercedes sedan when he was struck by a Toyota Yaris speeding northbound on Shaganappi Trail.

Police said the Toyota had raced through a red light.

The crash killed Brar and Danni-Victoria Russell, 21, a passenger in the Toyota.

Amie Nottebrock, 25, was charged with two counts of impaired driving causing death and two counts of driving causing death.

Brar’s family is still grieving a year later, but is channelling some of their grief with their ongoing support for SAIL, said Shah.

“SAIL holds the highest value with the Brar family as it was started by Arshdeep’s friends who had a vision of getting together to bring awareness among society about the dangers of drinking and driving,” said Brar’s older brother, Anoop, in an email.

He praised their efforts in preventing more innocent lives being lost.

Shah said she still worries constantly about how to keep SAIL going even after she and the other founders have graduated, and whether she’ll be able to expand the club to other campuses across the city.

“But if I stand in front of a crowd of 100 and only one person walks away thinking about not drinking and driving, I will have accomplished my task.”

And for those who knew Brar and will never be the same after his death, she added: “At least we will have learned our lesson.”

Source: The Calgary Herald



Last updated on: 2013-04-09 | Link to this post