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Getting MADD with drunk drivers

With nearly 20 million cars and trucks on our roads, automobiles have become a fact of life for Canadians. But our reliance on them comes at a cost. Over the past 50 years nearly 200,000 Canadians have died in traffic accidents — more than were killed in both world wars combined. In addition, despite vastly improved safety measures automobile accidents continue to be a major cause of death of younger Canadians. CBC Archives takes a look at the long, slow road to improved traffic safety.

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From 1976 to 1982, drunk drivers contributed to more than 18,000 deaths, or about half of all road deaths in Canada. Considering the toll, why is punishment for the criminal offence limited to a fine or a night in jail? That's the question being asked by many relatives of people killed in drinking and driving-related accidents in the early 1980s. This CBC Television clip talks to members of the new Vancouver advocacy group MADD about their stories and what to do about drivers who drink.
• Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, got its start in Canada in 1981 with a chapter in Vancouver.

• The B.C. branch of MADD (which in this clip is called "Mothers and Others Against Drunk Driving") was founded by Sally Gribble, whose son Fred was killed in an accident caused by a drunk driver in the late 1970s.

• Gribble's mission was to eliminate impaired driving while providing support to victims of the crime. It recruited 300 members in its first year.

• Dissatisfied with an average fine of $350 or 24 hours in prison, MADD's members believed that politicians needed to be convinced of the gravity of drinking and driving.

• Even though impaired driving was entered into the Criminal Code in the 1950s, for decades it was considered a middle-class crime punishable by a night in jail.

• Results from breathalysers, or "drunkometers" as they were also known, were inadmissible in courts until the 1970s.

• In a 1962 Toronto Star article about proposed compulsory breathalyser tests, Magistrate A.D. Barron of Kitchener, Ont., called them a "blow to human rights" and "the sort of thing [that] could lead to a society where Big Brother is watching everything."

• For decades police relied on the unscientific method of making suspected drivers walk a straight line and perform various reflex and response exercises.

• On Dec. 1, 1969, breath tests became compulsory for anyone suspected of drinking and driving.

• A Toronto Star journalist wrote, "From today on, being sober is going to be just as important as looking sober...Science, in the form of a steel box called a breathalyser, will be your judge and jury."

• Public opinion regarding drunk driving was so indifferent at the time that in 1965 Fred Young, an Ontario NDP MPP, supported a study that suggested drivers with two drinks in them drove better than sober ones.

• In the early 1980s MADD was just one of several new groups springing up to combat drunk driving, which by then was suspected of being responsible for 50 per cent of all fatal vehicle collisions in Canada. Others included:
- Alberta's PAID (People Against Impaired Driving).
- CAID (Canadians Against Impaired Driving) in Manitoba.
- Ontario's PRIDE (People to Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere).

• As of July 2005, MADD Canada boasted 70 chapters across the country and 7,500 members. With an annual budget of $10 million, the registered charity offers victims' services, public awareness campaigns, legal research and a variety of youth programs.

• According to Transport Canada the number of deaths attributed to drinking and driving dropped from more than 2,500 in 1982 to 1,042 - or less than half - in 2003.

• Since the early 1980s the federal government has severely toughened the penalties for impaired driving. A first conviction for impaired driving carries a minimum fine of $600 and a potential driving ban of up to three years.

• Second-time offenders face a minimum of 14 days in prison and a possible driving ban of five years. Triple offenders face 90-day prison sentences and a minimum three-year driving ban. Subsequent offences result in one's driver's licence being revoked for life.

• The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers is .08 and was established in the 1950s. Despite efforts by MADD to have zero-tolerance imposed, the limit has remained over the decades.

• According to the Criminal Code of Canada, anyone found guilty of impaired driving causing bodily harm can face up to 10 years in prison.

• A person charged with impaired driving causing death faces a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

• Listen to actor Lorne Greene on holiday driving hazards in 1956.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 30, 1982
Guest(s): Dan Colborne, Sally Gribble, John Shafer
Host: Keith Morrison
Reporter: Catherine Olsen
Duration: 8:08
This clip has been edited for copyright reasons.

Last updated: December 1, 2014

Page consulted on December 1, 2014

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