February 27, 2020
A memorial sign along the southbound side of Highway 2 in Edmonton, just south of Highway 41, honours Thomas Spinks who was killed near the site in 2017.
Spinks was originally from Whitehorse.
The sign — “In Memory of Thomas T.C. Spinks” — also bears the Mothers Against Drunk Driving red ribbon and was unveiled at a ceremony in Edmonton Feb. 5 before it was installed on the highway.
It is the second such sign in Alberta to honour those who have lost their lives to impaired drivers with other signs in place in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
The first was installed in Ontario in 2008.
Efforts are underway to have signs installed in British Columbia over the next year, with the focus then expected to turn to the Yukon, said Gillian Phillips, MADD Canada’s victim services manager for Western Canada, in a Feb. 11 interview.
In all jurisdictions where the signs are in place, there’s a memorandum of understanding between MADD and the provincial or territorial governments.
A permit must also be approved on each individual sign as well. There must also be a conviction of an impaired driving charge for the sign to be installed. MADD pays for any repairs or replacements needed to the signs.
Though most are on provincial highways, there are some cases where municipalities have agreed to install the signs along municipal roads. In those cases the bylaws of the individual municipality must be followed.
Yukon government Highways and Public Works spokesperson Oshea Jephson said the territory would consider permitting the signs should MADD come forward with a proposal.
“Highways and Public Works works closely with MADD to reduce and eliminate rates of impaired driving in the territory,” he said in an email. “We would be happy to consider permitting these signs if approached.
“Similar to other campaigns, we would work with MADD to gather the necessary permits for signs within the highway right-of-way. We could potentially coordinate with the City of Whitehorse if signage was to be installed on city roads.”
While 2019 statistics aren’t yet available, records from the Yukon Bureau of Statistics for between 2009 and 2018 show there were five convictions in the Yukon for impaired driving causing death — two in 2010 and one each in 2011, 2012, and 2014.
Convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm were six times higher than that in the same period, with 35 cases between 2009 and 2018.
When it comes to other impaired driving convictions, 2018 had the highest number at 510 for those under the influence of alcohol and 2014 had the highest figure of 20 for those under the influence of drugs.
MADD estimates that on a national basis there’s between 1,250 and 1,500 people killed and more than 63,000 injured each year in impaired-related crashes, which includes all forms of transportation, such as boating along with driving a vehicle.
Phillips said the memorial signs throughout the country are aimed at honouring individuals who have lost their lives to impaired drivers as well as to prevent impaired driving.
The program grew out of the white cross movement, which sees white crosses installed at the scenes of fatal collisions in honour of those who died, she explained.
“It just kind of evolved from there,” she said.
Often near the scenes of fatal crashes, those who are grieving will place flowers and other mementoes to remember their loved one. It’s not long before those are removed from the roadside as clean up is done by work crews regularly. The signs provide a permanent way to honour those who have passed, Phillips said.
And so far the response to the signs has been “extremely positive,” Phillips said, adding she hasn’t heard “one negative thing from it”.
For families it means their loved one is remembered with a permanent installation that also serves as a reminder of why it’s so important to not drive impaired.
Thomas’ mother Heidi Spinks said it’s her hope those who pass the sign placed in honour of Thomas — and signs placed in honour of other impaired driving victims — will realize the devastating impact impaired driving can have and will choose not to drive impaired.
As Thomas’ father Tony Wentworth said at the unveiling: “My family and I cannot express adequately what this sign means to us. We now have a lasting marker to honour Thomas at the location where he was taken from us. From the depths of our hearts, we want to thank MADD Canada and everyone involved in making this happen. It is a source of light during an awful time.”