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What is MADD and What is Its Role in Canada’s DUI Laws?

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If you’ve been seeing red ribbons on car aerials on Toronto streets or have noticed them on people’s lapels and initially thought they might be poppies, you might think they’re celebrating the upcoming holiday season. While they are holiday-oriented, the ribbons are not celebratory. Instead, they’re part of a national campaign to remind people not to drive while impaired during the holiday season. Those displaying the red ribbon signify an “unwavering commitment to never drive under the influence,” according to campaign organizer MADD Canada.

If you’ve never heard of the 36-year-old Red Ribbon Campaign and are unfamiliar with MADD, the Greater Toronto Area criminal defence lawyers of Mass Tsang can tell you all about them.

MADD Stands for “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a non-profit organization committed to “end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking,” according to the group’s mission statement. Founded in California in 1980, MADD lobbies governments to enact laws and policies that increase impaired driving penalties, encourage greater enforcement of driving under the influence (DUI) laws, reduce underage drinking, and other measures to reduce impaired driving. It also provides victim support services and has mounted numerous campaigns — like its Red Ribbon one — over the decades to increase public awareness about the dangers of impaired driving.

Fair Oaks, California, mother Candace Lightner founded MADD after her 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was struck and killed by a repeat drunk driver just two days after his fourth DUI arrest. With help from other grieving mothers in the state, MADD’s initial work involved extensive efforts to get the state of California to increase the toughness and enforcement of its DUI laws. Out-of-state mothers joined the initiative, and within six months of MADD’s founding, the organization held its first national press conference in Washington, DC, signalling its intention to go national.

MADD Quickly Secures Anti-Impaired Driving Results

Which it quickly did. By mid-1981, mothers and volunteers were marching in front of state capitals, holding candlelight vigils, and petitioning legislators to make meaningful changes to impaired driving laws and policies. In 1982, MADD was made a member of the newly created Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving, and the U.S. Congress passed a MADD-supported funding bill to incentivize states to reduce blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) in their DUI laws to .10% and enact other impaired driving countermeasures (the group has since been instrumental in getting many states to reduce the BAC further to .08%).

In one of its most significant early successes, the group successfully pushed the congressional passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. This legislation withheld federal highway funding from states that refused to raise their minimum drinking age to 21. Before this legislation, most U.S. state drinking ages were 18.

The organization was just getting started, and over the ensuing decades, it has successfully carried out numerous initiatives and campaigns that have helped curb impaired driving in the U.S.

MADD Spreads North and South

MADD Canada was founded in 1989 by provincial anti-drinking and driving groups that received a charter from MADD U.S. Like the U.S. organization, MADD Canada has mounted numerous campaigns and initiatives to strengthen DUI laws and enforcement, educate the public, and support victims. Its stated mission is “to stop impaired driving and to support victims of this violent crime.” In 2019, the organization expanded to a third country with the founding of MADD Brazil .

MADD Canada Initiatives and Campaigns

MADD Canada has long been instrumental in pushing the federal and provincial governments to strengthen DUI-related laws and their enforcement since its founding. The group promoted many of the legislative changes to federal DUI laws that were enacted in 2018’s Bill C-46 . The legislation established cannabis levels for impaired driving, authorized mandatory roadside alcohol screening, and enhanced DUI penalties, among other things.

The organization considers its victim services to be “at the heart of everything” MADD Canada does. Victim services provide direct emotional support, which helped more than 2,200 victims and survivors in 2021. It also advocates for victims’ rights with the federal and provincial governments, assists victims with the legal system, and has a bursary fund to help survivors with post-secondary education.

The organization's extensive public awareness campaigns drive the Canadian public’s familiarity with MADD Canada. Along with the Red Ribbon campaign, it promotes:

  • The national Campaign 911 , also known as RID—"Report Impaired Drivers.”
  • Impaired Driving Prevention Awareness Week.
  • Do What You Do Campaign.
  • Strides for Change walkathon
  • A youth program that highlights the dangers of impaired driving in thousands of in-school presentations.
  • Public awareness television, radio, and poster ads .

MADD Canada’s Current Legislative Goals

MADD Canada’s current legislative goals are laid out in its 2020 “ Top Ten Report: Federal Measures to Minimize Impaired Driving and Support Victims .” Key among the group’s goals is the enactment of a federal non-criminal DUI offence of driving with a BAC between .05% and .08%. As a summary conviction offence, the charges would subject those convicted to a fine and federal driving prohibition “considerably shorter than that imposed” on those convicted of a .08% DUI. Other legislative measures the group is pushing include:

  • Mandatory alcohol and/or drug screening of any driver involved in a motor vehicle accident, including blood screening for those unable to undergo standard screening due to injuries or other reasons.
  • Authorize police to demand oral fluid drug screening of any driver they lawfully stop.
  • Mandatory notification of
  • Establishment of a system to collect and publish alcohol and drug-related motor vehicle accident deaths and injuries quickly, accurately, and comprehensively.
  • Establishment of a system to collect and publish outcomes and sentencing of all federal alcohol and drug-related impaired driving cases.
  • Mandatory victim notification of any plea or sentencing deals before they are presented in court.
  • A requirement that judges must acknowledge any victim impact statements in their sentencing remarks.

MADD Canada is also pushing for legislation at the local level in its 2020 “ Top Ten Report: Provincial & Territorial Measures to Minimize Impaired Driving and Support Victims .” While the recommendations are specific to each province or territory, key measures applicable to most include:

  • Expansion of zero-tolerance policies for young and new drivers.
  • Extension of administrative license suspension and vehicle impoundment terms
  • Mandatory one-year ignition interlock terms for first-time DUI offenders.
  • Ensure that mandates of provincially funded victim services include victims of impaired driving.

Turn to Toronto’s Mass Tsang for Skilled Criminal Defence

The criminal defence lawyers of Mass Tsang suggest that you heed MADD Canada’s messaging by not getting behind the wheel if you are impaired. If you don’t heed this messaging and face criminal charges, accordingly, you are entitled to a criminal defence. In the Greater Toronto Area, turn to the expert legal guidance and defence offered by Mass Tsang by contacting us today .



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