Constable Rob Gardner of the Comox Valley RCMP detachment says the toughest part of a fatal car crash comes after he leaves the scene.
It’s the knock on the door… to notify the next of kin.
“It’s tough,” said Gardner. “There’s just no easy way to do it. And it’s even tougher in smaller communities, because news travels so fast. Sometimes the families come down to the scene, because they heard about it and don’t believe it and have to see for themselves. Ao now you’re dealing with the traffic, you’re dealing with everything that needs to be dealt with on scene, and then the family shows up and you have to deal with what they see…”
When the officer makes that call to the victim’s home, he or she generally doesn’t make those calls alone.
“Victim services deserve props on all this – they come with us and help things,” said Gardner. “Without them, I can’t spend the time… it’s important for me to be there for the family, to let them know, but then victim services come in and help the families deal with what happens next.”
Next, as in funeral arrangements.
On average, 86 people die every year in crashes involving impaired driving in British Columbia (ICBC stats).
Based on those numbers, RCMP will have to make up to seven home visits this holiday season, to tell someone they have just lost a spouse, a parent, or a child.
Courtenay Fire Department Chief Don Bardonnex has seen his share of tragedies in his time as a firefighter.
“Quite honestly, this, and texting while driving are the two biggest killers we face with motor vehicles,” he said.
Bardonnex could not give numbers as to how many fatalities he has attended that involve alcohol.
“A lot of the fatalities that I go to, well, the last thing I do is check whether the guy is drunk. And I absolutely never, ever check up on somebody after we leave the scene. I learned that early in my career. It just causes so much damage to the firefighters and whatnot. If they are alive when they leave the scene, there’s nothing more we can do, so we never check up on them., and we never ask the cops whether they were impaired.”
He said while that is not a hard policy, it is a personal coping mechanism.
“It’s what works for me, and I push it hard to my firefighters as well.”
Counselling is a necessity with first responders.
“We do that all the time. It’s been a big thing forever, but it was always in the background before. Now we jump on it immediately after the call is over.”
He doesn’t even know how many fatalities he has attended over the years.
“I don’t keep track. There are too many hard things about this job, and keeping track of that has absolutely no value to us.”
Countering the drunk driver
The CounterAttack program – an anti-drinking and driving program that happens every year during the holiday season – is helping, although Gardner says there is still work to do.
“People don’t really seem to be getting the message,” he said. “It’s better now than it used to be – companies are making sure that there are safe rides home. But there are still people out there who are not prepared for what happens after the party.
“The education is out there, and we all know what happens, but the message still seems to be missing a select few.”
Gardner sent a warning to the chronic drunk drivers out there: You will get caught.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “That’s the thing about the CounterAttack program, with the ‘stop checks’, we set them up in all different places, at all different times, so you never know when, or where it is going to be. You get the people who are doing it all the time… eventually, their time will come.”
Much has been said about Canada’s impaired driving laws, and their relative lack of consequence, compared to those of other countries. Gardner said the province of British Columbia is making headway in that regard.
“I think they are making really good progress with the IRP – the Immediate Roadside Prohibition,” he said. “That’s something that a lot of provinces don’t have yet in Canada and I know they are trying to get that legislation. I think that is making an impact.
“If you get caught and you blow over the limit, that’s it. Your vehicle is gone for 30 days; you lose your license for 90 days… So that’s a good thing, absolutely.”
Gardner said the most practical thing to do is make plans before going out.
“People have to plan ahead,” he said. “We always hear people say ‘there weren’t enough taxis’ or ‘I couldn’t get home, I needed to drive home.’ People know they are going out for the night; they know they are going to be drinking.
“They have to make a plan for that. Get a designated driver, take a tax, a bus, find a friend that is sober. Just think about what is going to happen. There’s no excuse. It’s just not worth it.”