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Drinking and driving campaign brings back memories

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(BELLEVILLE, Ont. 30/06/11) Nancy Santon says goodbye to a picture of her nephew on the back of a Belleville Transit bus. MADD Quinte put the picture on the bus for the month of June. Photo by Jennifer Bowman

By Jennifer Bowman

Deciding to put the picture of her dead nephew on the back of a city bus was a painful decision for Nancy Santon.

“I was quite sad for about a week because it brought it all back up, but you have to do something,” said Santon. “You have to make a difference. You just want one family not to have to experience what this family has been through. And if we can make a difference, save one life, we will.”

For the month of June the pictures of two people killed by drunk driving have been on the back of two Belleville city buses. One of those pictures is of Nancy Santon’s nephew, Andrew Westlake.

Westlake, a two-time provincial kayaking champion from Toronto, was killed in 1995 in an accident that killed two people and injured 11 after a Brock University freshman party in St. Catharines. Now the hopes and dreams he never had the opportunity to accomplish live on in his face on the back of a bus.

The posters were put on the buses by the Quinte chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Constable Doug Norman, president of MADD and part of the Belleville Police Services, was behind the campaign.

They wanted to attach a face to the name, said Norman. If people are parked at a red light, they have to read it, and there’s an actual person that was killed by drunk driving looking at them.

Connecting drunk driving with a face is what made the Santons decide it was worth it to face the pain again. Her nephew’s death by drunk driving has affected Santon’s entire family.

It completely changes the family dynamic, said Santon. It changed the way she felt about letting her daughter, who was his age, spread her wings.

The other victim on the posters is Debbie Charlton, a local woman who was killed in her late teens by a drunk driver more than 20 years ago.

People can’t believe what they see, said Norman. People know her, they went to school with her. Her picture will bring back memories and get them talking about drinking and driving.

Now the campaign is almost over.

Santon doesn’t know if it affected anyone directly, but she knows it’s making an impact. People are stopping and looking at it, some are coming and talking to her about it.

People knew about the accident her nephew was in, said Santon, but now they see the face on the bus and realize it was a human being, someone with promises and dreams. It’s given her a way to reach out and maybe prevent someone else from doing it.

The posters coincide with an Ontario survey that revealed drinking and driving is up among people from the age of 18-29. It increased from 7.7 per cent in 2005 to 12.8 per sent in 2009.

With all the education and everything that points to the terrible things drunk driving brings, you’d think they’d be the first people that wouldn’t drink and drive, the first generation that would make a difference, said Santon.

Norman said it may not be an increase in drinking and driving as much as it is a change in the laws.

“Now that they’ve lowered the blood alcohol concentration, people who’ve had just one drink are finding themselves without their license,” said Norman.

It doesn’t take very much anymore to blow over, he said. For years people were used to going to a bar after work or school for a drink or two and still drive legally. Those are the ones who are being pulled over randomly and charged now.

Norman attributed some of the increase to the fact that 18-29 is the age when people move away from home for the first time and start experimenting with things that they probably wouldn’t while they’re at home.

Keeping it live in the media and making sure people constantly hear about it is important, said Norman. If they didn’t educate the public that way, he’s sure impaired driving would increase.

Educating people about drunk driving became a part of Santon’s life after her nephew was killed. It’s been 16 years, but the pain of losing someone is still raw.

“The anger’s still there, but you put it to better use to try to make a difference,” said Santon.

Santon does that through volunteering. It’s a way of life for the whole family. Santon and her husband are part of MADD Quinte, her sisters are part of MADD in Toronto and Lindsay.

“It made me very driven to try to make a difference,” said Santon. “It’s something that I always thought, ‘Oh that’s a horrible thing that happened to somebody else,’ but I probably wouldn’t have stepped forward quite the same.”

Though drinking and driving stats are up for the younger generation, age doesn’t dictate who will drink and drive.

“It happens to any age at any time,” said Norman.

Around Christmas, it’s middle-age people coming home from Christmas parties, he said, whereas in spring and summer it tends to be younger people.

“For every impair we bring in, there’s probably about 20 that drive by. Some of them get home safely, some of them don’t, some of them crash,” said Norman.

According to statistics on MADD Quinte’s website, every day four people in Canada are killed and 188 are injured because of drunk driving. About 41 per cent of vehicle collisions are caused by impaired driving.

This is a trial period for the posters, said Norman. Maybe next time there will be more people who are willing to put victim’s faces on the backs of buses.

“We don’t want people to get tired of seeing them,” said Norman.

The posters are only on the buses for a month to keep the message from getting clichéd. They will be taken off the buses at the end of June and put back up to kick off the Red Ribbon campaign at the end of November.

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