Record New Year’s Eve for Operation Red Nose

Operation Red Nose dispatcher John Alexandersen takes a call late in the evening on Saturday, Dec. 8. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The New Year began in the best way possible for Operation Red Nose.

The local safe-driver service, which gives rides to clients who have been drinking in exchange for a donation, provided 364 rides over the 2018-19 holiday season. That’s an increase of roughly 33 per cent compared to the year before.

“It’s a good sign,” Operation Red Nose Prince Albert chair Randy Braaten said. “I think maybe the message is finally getting out there to people not to drive impaired and find a safe way home.”

A total of 779 people used the service in 2018-19, with 178 volunteers driving more than 5,000 km to make sure everyone got home safely. The program also raised more than $7,500 for the Prince Albert Lions Club, who will be donating the money to 10 local elementary schools.

“Last year we donated to 12 of the elementary schools in P.A. and area, and this year I think we’ll be donating to the other 10,” Braaten explained. “That’s what we do, pick half of the schools one year and then we donate to the other half the following year.”

Operation Red Nose volunteers made a record number of trips on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day this year. In total, volunteers provided service for 54 calls before hanging up the phones early Tuesday morning, just above the previous high of 50.

“There was a cheer and stuff like that, but not loud a cheer because we were all pretty tired,” Braaten chuckled. “I think I got home around 4:30 (in the morning). It was better than last year. Last year I got home at 6 a.m., but then we had a long trip for our last ride last year.”

Braaten thanked all the volunteers who helped out, including a large number of students from Prince Albert’s post-secondary institutions. He also thanked local businesses and other donors for the program with everything from food to vehicles.

“The volunteers who came out to give us a hand, we couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “Also a real shout out to all the businesses that gave us support and vehicles and food and coffee. It kept us going through those long nights.”

Prince Albert was one of 102 communities across Canada with an Operation Red Nose program, five of which are in Saskatchewan. A total of 724 people volunteered across the province, providing a safe trip home for 1,262 riders.  A total of 73,150 riders used the service across Canada this past holiday season.

SGI urges residents to resolve to end impaired driving in 2019

First the first time ever, Saskatchewan residents will enter the New Year with the right to legally purchase and smoke cannabis.

With that in mind, SGI is urging riders to be increasingly mindful of the risks of smoking and driving as part of their January Traffic Safety Spotlight. Auto Fund CEO Penny McCune said their goal is to make 2019 the year no one even considers driving while impaired.

“The acceptable number of drivers charged with impairment is zero,” McCune said in a media release. “The acceptable number for people killed and hurt by impaired driving is zero. Every driver has the responsibility to never get behind the wheel when they’re impaired.”

Both the federal and provincial governments passed legislation in 2018 to crack down on impaired driving. On Dec. 18, a new federal law came into effect allowing police to demand a roadside breath sample from any driver who has been lawfully stopped. Meanwhile, a new provincial law came into affect in September that adds extra penalties for drug-impaired drivers caught with children inside the vehicle.