A ‘different approach’: Changing the conversation around drinking and driving
It’s a scene all too familiar in Saskatchewan: tangled metal after a crash involving alcohol. For some, the images hit close to home.
“You replay every movement of that over and over again,” said Celene Dupuis. “It’s something that I think kind of stays seared in your brain.”
That moment for her was Oct. 1, 2000. Eighteen-year-old Dupuis was attending university in Texas when she got a call from her grandmother. Her 16-year-old sister, Danae Dupuis, was in a crash. Danae and her boyfriend were leaving a party in the early hours of the morning. Her boyfriend got behind the wheel impaired, and their vehicle was hit by a truck at an uncontrolled intersection. He survived. Danae died in hospital.
“You think it’s never going to happen to you, but I think you realize pretty quickly that nobody’s really safe,” said Celene.
Out of the heartbreak, Celene and her mother Cheryl decided to spread that message. They travelled to high schools across the province, speaking to students the same age as Danae was when she died.
Tragic stories like Danae’s have played out nearly 1,200 times in the past two decades in Saskatchewan. In fact, the province has almost three times the per-capita national rate of police-reported impaired driving offences.
In September, a month after former deputy premier Don McMorris was charged with impaired driving, Premier Brad Wall posted on Facebook about the issue. He stated his daughter, who recently graduated high school, told him “there is a great deal of awareness on the dangers of drinking and driving.” He said older generations need to be more aware of drinking and driving.
“But as for us parents and for older generations, we must intensify and extend our efforts for greater awareness and responsibility,” Wall wrote.
According to SGI statistics, however, it’s not the older generation that has the problem. Of the 1,163 impaired drivers involved in collisions in Saskatchewan in 2015, nearly two-thirds are under the age of 34.
Education on impaired driving is not mandated in any courses under the provincial curriculum. According to a spokesperson with Saskatoon Public Schools, “the provincial health curriculum is written in such a way that teachers/students could explore the topic of drinking and driving, but there are no explicit expectations to do so.”
Drivers education is the only time students are guaranteed a conversation about impaired driving.
Ken Claffey has been part of Saskatchewan’s Driver Education program for almost 30 years. In that time, he said the impaired driving portion of the course “hasn’t changed a lot.”
Claffey said driver trainers usually dedicate five hours of the 30-hour program to impaired driving. They lecture, use interactive activities and play videos, but the methods aren’t always effective.
“The more gory videos that some people would remember aren’t as big an impact on the students, or they don’t have as big an impact on students anymore, because they see so much stuff on TV or on YouTube,” said Claffey.
Students also learn about impaired driving when schools recruit speakers, like Celene and Cheryl.
Cheryl, 16 years after the crash, is still speaking at high schools. The reason her message resonates with young people, according to her daughter, is because they don’t use the traditional scare tactics, like images of crash scenes.
“Somehow, my mom’s able to get (the students) to start thinking about, ‘What would my family do and how would they feel, and what would happen to them if I wasn’t there,’” said Celene. “I think it’s just taking a different approach.”
The provincial government announced changes to impaired driving laws in October. If passed, the new laws will go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.
SGI hopes to update the provincial drivers education curriculum alongside the new rules.