Van de Vorst family receives MADD Canada award

Linda and Lou Van de Vorst's son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren were killed by an impaired driver in Jan. 2016

Highways Minister Joe Hargrave, left, presents Linda and Lou Van De Vorst with the inaugural Robert. M. Solomon Award for Excellence in Public Policy for their advocacy work. The Van De Vorsts lost their son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren (Jordan, Chanda, Kamryn and Miguire) when they were killed by an impaired driver in 2016. (Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

An inaugural award from MADD Canada is going to a Saskatchewan couple who have made a difference with impaired driving laws in the province.

The Robert M. Solomon Award for Excellence in Public Policy was presented by MADD Canada to Linda and Lou Van de Vorst over Zoom and then in-person at a small ceremony on Friday.

Lou Van de Vorst said he was surprised when he found out he and his wife got the award.

“It’s gratifying, but it’s not just us. I think there’s a lot of people involved in Saskatoon working on impaired driving and that and they deserve some credit for it as well,” Lou said.

Linda and Lou know firsthand the toll impaired driving can take on a family. They lost their son, daughter-in-law and two young grandchildren in a Jan. 2016 crash caused by a drunk driver.

Since then, they’ve been talking with government officials and law enforcement, to try and change impaired driving laws and deter people from driving impaired.

“At that time (2016) the penalties for anyone convicted with impaired driving wasn’t very strong. It wasn’t sending a message at all,” Linda said.

The couple started meeting with government officials, including Minister of Justice Gordon Wyant.

In 2017, traffic laws were amended that included vehicle seizures for experienced drivers charged with impaired driving for the first time that had a blood alcohol content (BAC) over .04 . The government also introduced a law of zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol for all drivers under 21 and all new drivers. The Minister Responsible for SGI at the time was Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave.

“Some (people) are getting the message but there’s a lot of people out there that just don’t,” Linda said.

Linda added she and Lou have been able to thank drivers at check points who say they no longer drive impaired. However, it’s not always a positive experience.

“We see so many tow trucks coming by and taking these vehicles away and (people’s licenses) are being suspended or (they are) taken down to the police station. That is a sad thing for us to see,” Linda said. She added that it is good, however, that impaired drivers are being taken off the streets.

Linda and Lou say they want to continue meeting with law enforcement and government officials to make suggestions going forward.

One area of concern for the couple is rural areas, where they worry drivers may think it’s OK to drive impaired a couple of miles between the town and other properties.

“The attitude with that is that oh it’s a mile or two or a couple of miles down the road, but in a couple of miles you can end up killing yourself or killing somebody else if you’re driving impaired,” Lou said.

Linda and Lou also encourage people to call 911 to report an impaired driver. The Report Impaired Drivers (RID) program instructs people to pull over and call 911, stating the location and the direction the vehicle is travelling as well as describe the car and driver if you can.

Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada said the Van de Vorst’s have had a big impact on the provincial government changing legislation and bringing in various programs.

“Saskatchewan last year had a significant drop in impaired driving deaths, and a lot of that had to do with the work of all our volunteers in Saskatchewan but especially Linda and Lou, who suffered the worst pain possible losing their son, two grandchildren, and their daughter-in-law to impaired driving,” Murie said.

In 2016, 51 people were killed in collisions involving an impaired driver. That number has significantly decreased in 2019 with a total of 21 fatalities.

But Lou says that’s still 21 families affected.

“(They) won’t be spending Christmas this year with a loved one because that loved one got killed by an impaired driver,” Lou said. “There’s no reason for it, no excuse for it.”

Lou asks anyone planning on going out and having a few drinks to plan a safe ride home before you leave your house.

“It’s important to do that before you start drinking because even one drink can cloud your judgement,” Lou added it’s important to have a back up plan in case your ride home falls through.

The Van de Vorst’s were presented the award outside of Minister Don Morgan’s constituency office in Saskatoon on Friday. Hargrave, who is now the Minister of Highways, was also in attendance.

“I can’t thank them enough for all they have done to reduce impaired driving in Saskatchewan,” Hargrave said in a statement.

“The Van de Vorsts along with a number of families impacted by impaired driving have worked alongside government to truly make a difference and for that I am so very thankful. They are truly deserving of such an award.”

Linda says impaired driving is still an issue and everyone needs to continue to work to make the roads a safer place.

“You want to see your family, you live for your family and you don’t want someone to steal that away from you. That’s why we continue on with this battle.”