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Middelaers comforted by progress

B.C.'s stiffer impaired driving laws credited for significant reduction in alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths

One year after implementing new drinking and driving penalties B.C. has seen a significant drop in the number of deaths attributed to impaired driving, Victoria announced last week.

Last Wednesday was the National Day of Remembrance for Road Crash Victims in Canada, and Premier Christy Clark announced that between Oct. 1, 2010 and Sept. 30, 2011, the total number of alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths was 68. That is a 40 per cent decrease over the average of 113 such deaths each year over the previous five years.

Last year, the province announced new impaired driving penalties, the toughest in the country, and, in honour of Alexa Middelaer, the little Ladner girl who was killed after being struck by an impaired driver in May 2008, a goal of reducing the number of impaired driving deaths by 35 per cent by the end of 2013.

"That's 45 more families in B.C. who have been able to keep a loved one safe from impaired drivers," Clark said.

Laurel Middelaer, Alexa's mother, was on hand for the announcement. She said she was moved by the dramatic changes that have accompanied the new stiffer penalties.

"I take great comfort knowing that this wonderful province of B.C., our collective home, has delivered progress that is simply unprecedented," she said.

"Trust me, one little life would have made all the difference in the world to me, but we have saved 45 lives in this province and that is amazing."

Middelaer was in the legislature in April 2010 when the new rules were announced.

"For the first time in a decade, we've seen a real drop in the deaths associated with impaired driving, and 45 more people made it home safe in the past year as a result," said Shirley Bond, minister of public safety and B.C.'s solicitor general.

"Together with public education, prevention programs and criminal sanctions, the roadside penalties will continue to play a role in helping to ensure the success seen over the past year becomes a life-saving trend over the long term."

Across B.C., police report having served 23,366 immediate roadside driving prohibitions to impaired drivers. Of those, 15,401 were drivers who blew in the "fail" range, which indicates a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher, or refused to provide a breath sample; and 7,965 were drivers who blew in the "warn" range, which indicates a blood alcohol level of between .05 and .08.

Police also impounded 20,020 cars province-wide. In more than 14,900 cases, the vehicles were impounded for 30 days after the driver blew in the "fail" range. The rest, around 5,100, were three-day impoundments for drivers caught in the "warn" range for the first time.

"The B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police strongly supported the new law and recognized that enforcement would be critical to helping build awareness, change drinking and driving habits, reduce injuries and collisions, and ultimately save lives," said Chief Supt. Bill Dingwall, president of the association.

"The first year success is a reflection of a significant change in public attitude towards drinking and driving, with enforcement and immediate sanctions reinforcing this remarkable change."

Clark also announced last week the province would contribute $40,000 this year to the Alexa's Bus cam-paign.

The Middelaer family has partnered with the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation in an effort to raise money to establish five mobile impaired driving testing units.

The Middelaers envision a fleet of purple customized motorhomes, which will be known as Alexa's Buses, specially designed to help police forces across the province in road safety education and enforcement.

The buses, emblazoned with Alexa's picture and powerful messages, will not only act as a deterrent and education tool but will contain all the space and equipment officers require to collect evidence and process impaired drivers at roadside.

The goal of the Back the Bus campaign, which was launched earlier this year, is to raise $1.25 million to purchase and outfit five buses that will be used province-wide.

For more information on the campaign, visit www.

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