The unveiling of Alberta’s first roadside memorial sign for a victim of impaired driving took place along Highway 22 just north of Highway 1, Aug. 23.
Alfred Benary was left with internal injuries Sept. 12, 2015, after his vehicle was hit by a Ford F-150 pickup truck operated by an impaired driver. Benary succumbed to his injuries Oct. 2, 2015.
At just 55 years old, he would never kiss his wife again, hug his daughters or help his brother on the farm in Water Valley.
Impaired driving is the top cause of death and injury in Canada, according to the Department of Justice, with an average of four people killed each day. In Alberta, approximately 6,800 people are convicted of impaired driving, each year.
“One impaired driving-related fatality in this province is too many,” said Insp. Jason Graw, with the Alberta Sheriffs Branch. “The Sheriff highway patrol, in partnership with the RCMP, our priorities are intercepting impaired drivers.”
The mood during the unveiling of the memorial sign was understandably sombre.
“It’s been difficult and it never goes away, you know. For the first so many months, I thought it was just having a bad dream, and I was going to wake up and turn over and he’d be there – he’s not,” said Adele Dirks, Benary’s wife of 16 years.
Dirks and her two daughters have become strong advocates against drinking and driving, and will not hesitate to report a suspected impaired driver.
“It’s never the drunks that get hurt,” Dirks said. “It’s only the innocent people that are dying.”
Deanna Dirks, Benary’s eldest daughter, said she is hopeful the sign will have an impact on drivers; however, working in the liquor industry and frequently seeing impaired people behind the wheel, has left her with limited expectations. She added even with high school courses and public service announcements targeting impaired driving, it doesn’t do much.
“Nobody really internalizes it until it happens to you,” Deanna said.
Alberta Minister of Transportation Ric McIver, who was present at the unveiling, said he hopes the sign will serve as a strong warning not to drink and drive.
“Today’s a very stark and terrible reminder of what the results can be,” he said.
McIver added there are plenty of other ways to get home after a night out, and said it’s all about making the appropriate choices. However, based on statistics, he said he fears more memorial signs will be erected in Alberta.
With no concrete solutions to impaired driving, the only course of action is to continue to spread awareness about the consequences, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
“Roadside signs and other memorials are a powerful way to recognize victims, and to remind the public about the tragic consequences of impaired driving,” said MADD Canada Chief Executive Officer Andrew Murie. “One person’s choice to drive impaired took Alfred Benary’s life and devastated his whole family. When people see this memorial sign, we want it to motivate them to make a commitment to never drive impaired.”
MADD has collaborated with governments in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to install the memorial signs.