By Marlene Campbell and Paul MacWilliams
In recent days, the issue of drunk driving has been back in the news. Drinking and driving is the one Island way of life that we don't seem desirous to change. Sadly, the topic only gets talked about for a short time when there is another death, because for most Islanders, until it hits home, it is just a story. This is proven in the continued behaviour of risk-taking and the denial of the depth of the problem.
A recent newspaper article quotes a law enforcement officer as attributing the behaviour to those under 25 and those over 55. There is no excuse for those over 55 who, for the most part, are hopefully responsible, contributing members of society who should know better. The under-25 crowd, with much to learn about life, unfortunately buys into the message put out there that the consumption of alcohol leads to a good time without consequences. The message is delivered in numerous ways such as the media ads of fun-loving, sexy young people having a great time consuming a certain product or government-promoted wine, and beer festivals that sell the concept of ‘chic'.
How much is our current administration contributing to the problem? One gets the sense that the sale of alcohol has become the new economic strategy of our provincial government. If you look at the sales numbers of the Island Liquor Commission they are pretty impressive for the size of our population. We now have private retailers in small community outlets so that no one, especially the tourists, so we are told, have to drive any distance to get a drink. Is that the reason that our tourism numbers are down in recent years - the fact that they can't get a drink on every stretch of highway? After all, the Island is such a big province.
I would argue that, in the end, those tourists we want to attract might be more interested in safe driving conditions than in reading in the national media, as they did this past summer, about a vacationer being killed by someone who afterwards was charged with impaired driving.
But to get to the main point: the government - in making alcohol more readily available, and, oh yes, in some cases, cold and ready to consume - gives the public, and in particular youth, the illusion that there is no real harm in the consumption of the product even to the point of getting behind the wheel. Where is the other side of the story? And when is our government going to start telling it? When is it going to start allocating real resources to address the issue? Experts in the field of addiction tell us that to change ‘a way of life' takes time and prevention that comes through education. We all need to be educated about responsible drinking and develop a zero tolerance attitude for drinking and driving. Many people right now won't pick up the phone or take away the keys from their family member, co-worker, friend or stranger. Would you? Both the government and the public are living in denial. The lack of acknowledgment and constructive leadership on the part of our government adds to the sense of betrayal for those of us who have experienced the consequences of drinking and driving.
Marlene Campbell of Lot 16 will mark on Nov. 21 the 29th anniversary of the date her father, Gordon Campbell, was struck by a drunk driver and left in a vegetative state for 14 years before his death in 1997. Paul MacWilliams of Summerside is a recovered alcoholic with two drunk driving convictions who says he gives thanks every day that he didn't kill someone.