Every year an average of 66 people are killed in crashes involving impaired driving in British Columbia.
And it remains one of the top three contributing factors for fatal crashes in the province.
That was the message from Aileen Shibata, ICBC road safety program manager, at the launch of the 22nd annual provincial Operation Red Nose campaign in Maple Ridge on Thursday.
“Programs like this help to keep our roads and our communities safe,” said Shibata adding that ICBC has been a sponsor of the program for more than 20 years.
Operation Red Nose is a national road safety campaign against impaired driving that is run entirely by volunteers.
The program provides safe rides home to motorists who don’t feel fit to drive for whatever reason in their own vehicles. Teams of three will meet the client at the venue and drive them along with their vehicle home at the end of the night.
To date the Ridge Meadows campaign has provided 3, 629 safe rides home and are aiming to provide another 550 rides this holiday season.
Money raised goes towards helping local youth or amateur sports organizations. In Ridge Meadows money will support Pacific Sport Fraser Valley, a not-for-profit regional sport hub that provides dedicated support to more than 200 registered athletes and coaches across the Valley. Fifty per cent of the donations will directly support the athletes through competition and travel grants and the rest of the funds will support athlete development programs. The centre is one of only five in the province.
“Did you know 142 of the 313 athletes on Team Canada at the Rio 2016 games were from B.C.,” Pacific Sport Fraser Valley board chair Terry Becker asked the crowd.
“Nine of those athletes are registered with and benefit from our programs and support,” she said, including cyclist Maggie Coles-Lyster and water polo athlete Monika Eggens.
Since 1996 more than 94,000 rides have been provided by all the volunteers across the country.
“That’s almost 100,000 drivers who made that smart choice to call for a safe ride home and not get behind the wheel impaired,” said Shibata.
Dignitaries and volunteers that packed the back bay of Maple Ridge Towing, local headquarters for the campaign, were also celebrating the program’s 10th anniversary in Ridge Meadows.
Randy Sorley, owner of Maple Ridge Towing, said that participating in the program is a small way of giving back to the communities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, “for the support we have received from them over the last 36 years.”
“The devastation that we’ve seen over those years in business our staff attending collisions, alcohol related, to be a part of this program once a year we find very gratifying,” said the local businessman giving a special nod to his daughter and volunteer director for the local program Dena Sorley.
“It’s really nice to just feel like we’re contributing, not just being the cleanup crew,” he continued.
Maple Ridge councillor Corissa Bell addressed the crowd as acting Mayor thanking the volunteers.
“What speaks to me the most in everything that all of you do in this room with this operation is that you’re saving lives every single year. And we thank you, all of council thanks you so much for coming together and educating and putting yourselves out there at the late hours that you do in order to make sure that everyone gets home safely,” she said.
Pitt Meadows mayor John Becker thanked the crew at Maple Ridge Towing saying “it really speaks to the heart and soul of volunteerism here in our two communities.”
Constituency assistants for Lisa Beare and Bob D’Eith also thanked the volunteers on behalf of both local MLA’s for the continual service that they provide over the holiday season.
Lisa Prophet-Craik, publisher of the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows News, talked about what an honour it was to represent the paper and Black Press, both long-time supporters of the program.
Prophet said that only by volunteering can you really see the difference that is made in the community.
“You feel like you saved a life just by getting them in the vehicle and getting them home in safe manner,” said Prophet-Craik.
Marie-Chantal Fortin, national development coordinator for Operation Red Nose Canada, travelled all the way from Quebec to be at the launch. She announced that the theme for this years campaign is Your Safe Ride Home, a reminder to people that Operation Red Nose is a great alternative to get them and their vehicle home safely.
Fortin also noted that the Operation Red Nose mobile application is available in both official languages and allows clients to quickly find the phone number of the closest Operation Red Nose organization. It also allows people to set an alarm to remind themselves that it’s time to call Operation Red Nose at the end of the evening when they are ready to go home.
Every year the campaign has raised $1.5 million from coast to coast. This year there are a total of 101 host organizations across Canada, 11 of them in British Columbia including Abbotsford/Mission, Burnaby, Chilliwack, Delta/Richmond, Kamloops, New Westminster, the North Shore, Prince George, Ridge Meadows, the Tri-Cities and William Lake.
The campaign runs from Nov. 24 to Dec. 31. However more volunteers are needed.
Sue Sochasky started volunteering with the Ridge Meadows campaign on New Years Eve in 2012. Initially she was going to spend the evening alone at home but she didn’t want to be alone on that day in particular. Two days before the New Year she saw an ad in the local paper for Operation Red Nose and she answered the call. Now she is volunteering for the Tri-Cities area, Burnaby and Ridge Meadows.
“I like meeting people, working with such great volunteers, getting people home safe, learning about the areas of the community,” said Sochasky.
Nights of service are Nov. 24-25, Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16 and New Year’s Eve. To book a ride call 604-515-NOSE.
To volunteer go to pacificsportfraservalley.com/orn.