Program aims to save lives, reduce impaired driving

Prince Albert Police Chief Troy Cooper, pictured at City Hall on Monday, said programs like Ding in the New Year mean there is no excuse for residents to drink and drive. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald.

On Sept. 17, 1994, Robin Keays and some friends left one party north of Prince Albert and began driving south to join a second.

They never arrived.

Shortly after leaving, an impaired driver slammed into them so hard the force pushed the trunk of their car up near the front seat. To make matters worse, the impaired driver was one of Keays’ friends who, only minutes earlier, had told her he had a designated driver.

“He chose to get into that vehicle,” Keays said on Monday. “He chose to change my life forever.”

Her physical injuries where gone after a few months, but the mental trauma wasn’t as quick to heal.

Although Keays is fine today, she still carries the memories of that accident. It’s something she hopes Prince Albert residents will remember as they approach the heart of the holiday season.

“I’m hoping that they will listen,” said Keays, who currently serves as the Prince Albert MADD chapter vice-president.

“We can give them as much education as they want, but it’s their choice at the end.”

On Monday, Keays and other Prince Albert dignitaries were on hand to launch an annual program that gives local residents an alternative choice.

Keays, Mayor Greg Dionne, Police Chief Troy Cooper and Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave came out to offer their support for Ding in the New Year, which enters its 29th year of existence.

The annual program provides free transit to Prince Albert residents on New Year’s Eve with four routes spread across the city.

Ridership tends to vary with the weather, but on average, roughly 400 riders take advantage of the program every year.

“In Saskatchewan, there are a lot of places where those options (like Ding in the New Year) don’t exist and maybe use that as an excuse to drive after they’ve been drinking,” Cooper said.

“There is no excuse in a centre like ours for people to drink and then drive.”

This year’s program is an expanded version of previous ones. For the first time since it started in 1989, it will provide special needs transpiration. The move was a joint decision between the provincial government and their partners, and according to Hargrave, was long overdue.

“Those people with disabilities, they want to get out and they need that ride home as well,” said Hargrave, who serves as Minister of SGI.

“It’s unfortunate that it took so long to actually get that one implemented. It was overlooked and it never should have been.”

As with other years, the provincial government will cover the cost of operating the buses.

Hargrave didn’t have an official total for how much the project cost, but said whatever it came to, it was worth paying.

“It’s all what we consider minimal (cost) for the potential impact,” he said.

Ding in the New Year’s free transit service begins at 7:15 p.m. on Dec. 31 and ends at 3 a.m. on New Year’s Day. Route maps can be found at Residents requiring special needs transportation can call 306-953-4466.*

According to the Prince Albert Police Service, a total of 153 people have been charged with impaired driving in 2017.

That means Prince Albert is on pace to see a slight drop in the number of year-over-year charges from 2016.

*This is corrected story. The original story included an incorrect phone number. The city provided an updated phone number on Dec. 22. We apologize for any inconvenience.