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May long weekend is almost here, and with it come some safety concerns about driving responsibly.

A longtime problem

"Impaired driving in Manitoba is a huge problem and it has been for a very long time," says Denise Elias, president of Winnipeg's Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

She says that while there has been a slight decrease in impaired driving by alcohol over the years, combinations of alcohol and drugs, and drugs alone, especially marijuana, have increased; a problem MADD believes might increase the fatality statistics associated with impaired driving.

This decrease in driving incidents due to alcohol, however, have taken almost a generation to decrease. MADD hopes current legislation against driving drunk will be soon extended to all forms of impaired driving, and that as a result, impaired driving incidents will decrease much faster than before.

"We're hoping that it won't take long for people to realize that marijuana does not make you a better driver," Elias says.

She notes that marijuana especially can act as a depressant, giving drivers slower reaction times to emergency situations, that can quickly turn fatal.

With the May long weekend coming up, and the newly-lifted ban on liquor consumption in provincial parks, Elias is not fearful of an increase in fatalities due to impaired driving situations.

"I think people are wise, they need to plan ahead in time," she says. "If you're going to be driving home and you're camping and you are having alcoholic beverages that day, make sure there's another more sober adult who can drive."

Currently, individuals caught driving impaired face a three-day license suspension, while those caught travelling with individuals under the age of 16 who are impaired will face a seven-day suspension.

Those who plan to consume marijuana are asked to wait at least four hours before attempting to drive, and marijuana consumed alongside alcohol require that a more sober adult be present and available to be in operation of any vehicles.

Drunk driving applies to all motor vehicles

Long weekends often mean the first opportunities of the year to bring boats and other recreational vehicles out of storage, presenting another side of the concern with impaired driving.

According to the Canadian Criminal Code, a motor vehicle is any vehicle drawn, propelled, or driven by any means other than muscular power, a definition that includes all types of motor vehicles on land or water.

Elias doesn't believe that the dangers of drinking and boating are getting through to the public.

"About 150 people die each year because of impaired boating, and it is illegal to have alcohol on a boat unless you have a full functioning washroom [and] you have facilities to keep and serve food," she explained, also attributing the added difficulties of sun, heat, and water in combination that distort individual depth perception and add to the hazards of boating while impaired.

Regardless of the vessel, impaired driving is a serious problem to consider in all situations. It's an issue that's heartbreaking and preventable, and why Elias says their mandate is to stop impaired driving and to support victims of that violent crime.

"If you've ever been a victim of impaired driving, you understand that it is a violent crime," she says.

"You can cause an impaired crash and can cost a life... and every impaired crash that results in a death is a needless death... "In Canada, we lose 4 people every day and hundreds are injured every day, and some for life," explains Elias, "and it's all preventable"

Teenagers fighting against drunk driving

Hope Manness is part of the Teenagers Against Drunk Driving (TADD) team at John Taylor Collegiate in Winnipeg. Her mother lost a friend in high school because of drunk driving and Manness believes it needs to be talked about more.

"I think it's important because it can happen to anyone around us," she said.

Manness, 16, is close to getting a license herself and understands the importance of control behind the wheel.

"Driving is a privilege and you have to earn it," Manness stated. "It can be taken away so easily by something so stupid."

Teenagers need to hear from other teenagers about this issue, Manness said, but admitted it was tough. Kids don't always want to listen, which is why Manness will ask others to put themselves in the shoes of someone who lost a kid, friend, spouse or parent to a drunk driver. Then she asks others to imagine they are the ones who took that persons life.

"How would they feel if it was them that did that?" Manness asked.

Manness commends those who have the courage to say no to driving after they have had a drink, or who ask someone to come pick them up.

"Think about your family"

The MADD President recommends that this long weekend, you listen to the person next to you about whether or not you're fit to drive after drinking.

"Most of all, plan ahead, but if you don't do the planning ahead, please do not drive," Elias asks. "Even though you may feel as though you're capable of driving, the answer is probably that you are not," she says. "Your life is valuable as is everybody else's life on the road.

"Think about your family, think about your friends, think about yourself."

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