Renaye Wade spent two years learning to talk again.
This week, the right people finally started listening.
Her voice is quiet, her words halting, but her message has been clear and consistent: Alberta needs much tougher distracted driving laws.
A private member’s bill introduced by Tory MLA Moe Amery this week proposes a fine increase from $172 to $250, and would add three demerit points for drivers caught driving while distracted. The bill is expected to pass during the spring session of the legislature.
Two years ago on this very weekend, Wade was in a stalled car on the Yellowhead that was struck by a distracted driver. The car was pushed into the path of a semi-trailer.
Wade spent 34 days in a coma. She suffered broken bones and a devastating brain injury, and had to learn to walk, talk and eat again.
“I think I’m doing pretty fairly well,” she told CBC News on Friday. “It’s such a pain in the butt to have to go to therapists all the time. And I may have to go to them for years to come, if not for my whole life.”
Darren Wade said his daughter’s accident changed the family forever.
“The clock has stood still for two years,” he said. “We’re just trying to get back to where we were two years ago, as a family.”
On Sunday afternoon at the legislature grounds, the Wades will attend a news conference about distracted driving. There will be speeches, and at 4:50 p.m., the exact time of her car crash two years ago, people will release 172 balloons, one for each dollar of the current fine for distracted driving.
That $172 ticket, Darren Wade said, has never been fit punishment, has never acted as much of a deterrent.
“I’m on the streets every day,” he said. “I see hundreds of people texting and talking on phones when they’re driving.”
Demerit points will help, he said, because points lead to higher insurance costs.
“We know that demerits are coming," he said. "This law will go through. To me personally, the release of the balloons will signify that we can put more effort into her recovery and less into spreading the word about how this distracted driving law just hasn’t been cutting it.”
For her part, Renaya Wade has a simple message for all drivers. “Why can’t you just keep your eyes on the damn road!”
Justice Minister agrees legislation should be tougher
After two years of calls to change the legislation from the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, Justice Minister Jonathan Denis now speaks favourably about the idea.
He said “convincing numbers” from the police helped change his mind about demerit points.
“I think it’s time to act,” he said.
“I think this is good news," he said Thursday. "I think it’s good news for Albertans. I think it will make Albertans a lot safer."
Numbers from EPS show the current distracted driving legislation, which the government called "one of the most comprehensive in the country" when it was introduced in 2011, has clearly not worked. The number of tickets issued to Edmonontians has continued to grow each year since the bill became law.
EPS Distracted Driving Charges
2011 (Sept.-Dec.) 779
2015 (Jan.-Mar.) 658
“In Edmonton, we were seeing it every day, we could write tickets continuously, as many tickets as we wanted to write, and it wasn’t having any impact,” Knecht said.
It’s hoped that by adding demerit points, the worst offenders, drivers who keep getting caught and in Knecht’s words see the tickets as "the cost of doing business," will realize the price is now steeper — they could lose their licences.
“Edmontonians and Albertans, we love to drive and we love our driver’s licenses, and we want to keep them,” said Knecht.