MADD marks 25 years of Project Red Ribbon
As MADD Canada marked the 25th anniversary of its Project Red Ribbon campaign on Thursday, victims of drunk drivers, police and politicians were hoping people will get the message ahead of the holiday season not to drink and drive.
Statistics show many people are still taking a chance by driving under the influence. The figures are staggering.
Almost 1,500 Canadians are killed and more than 63,000 injured in impaired driving crashes every year, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said in Ottawa.
For victims the consequences are devastating.
Just ask Adrian Halpert. The 27-year-old Winnipeg man who hits the pavement several times a week wasn’t sure if he’d ever run again after a crash four years ago.
While he was driving two friends home from a bar around 2 a.m., Halpert’s vehicle was T-boned by an impaired driver in October 2008.
“Being the designated driver and being hit by a drunk driver was really unsettling to me,” Halpert told CTV News.
While his friends escaped uninjured, Halpert suffered a fractured pelvis, a broken hip, femur and rib and a collapsed lung.
Even worse than the recovery from those injuries, he said, was waiting for the offending driver to be punished.
In Manitoba, anyone caught with a blood alcohol of over .08 or who refuses to give a breath sample could be fined or get a minimum one-year driving suspension -- or jail time for repeat offenders.
“A person can potentially escape a jail sentence if what they've done is truly rehabilitative by demonstrating the have an alcohol problem and that they're doing something that is significant and that the court recognizes it,” said criminal lawyer Saul Simmonds.
But that could change. In July, a Manitoba judge ruled a first-time offender was so drunk -- four times over the legal limit when he was pulled over after seen swerving on a highway in July 2011 -- he didn't have to hit anyone to deserve a 14-day jail sentence.
In his ruling, Provincial Court Judge Ray Wyant stated: "I am sending a message and a warning: the gloves are coming off. Driving a car while impaired is like holding a loaded gun. If you choose to drink and drive even for the first time, you now run the risk of losing your job and your liberty".
The man in that case was also sentenced to two years probation, a $250 fine and a 15-month driving ban in addition to jail time.
Melody Bodnarchuk, president of the Winnipeg chapter of MADD, lost her 22-year-old nephew Brett Yasinksy to a suspected drunk driver in November 2010. She hopes Wyant’s ruling sets a precedent.
“I think that some jail time is certainly the answer,” said Bodnarchuk.
“There needs to be some punishment for the crime committed.”
Simmonds says although jail time is a deterrent, awareness is still key.
“We can educate our children. I lecture fairly often and it is the hope that people will learn from the mistakes of others,” he said.
MADD Canada has been taking its educational message to the streets for 25 years with Project Red Ribbon.
The campaign runs from Nov. 1 until after New Year’s and sees volunteers distribute millions of red ribbons to the public to attach to vehicles, key chains, purses and backpacks. The ribbon is a visual reminder to people to plan ahead for a safe ride home if they’re going to be consuming alcohol such as taking a cab, hopping on a bus or arranging a designated driver,
Prime Minister Stephen Harper marked the milestone by calling on Canadians to help prevent impaired driving over the holiday season and the rest of the year.
“For 25 years now, volunteers of MADD Canada have been raising awareness of the destructive and often deadly consequences of driving while impaired,” Harper said.
“In so doing, they have succeeded in educating drivers of all ages, saving lives, and making our streets and communities safer.”
Bodnarchuk said losing a loved one is a lifelong sentence. She hopes jail time gets the message across.
“These people are being killed maimed, injured,” she said.
“Some of them survive for life with horrid injuries: being dragged for a mile. The gloves are coming off, but maybe we need to punch a little harder. “
The offending driver in Halpert's case got two years behind bars.
Nothing, Halpert said, compared to the lifetime of knowing how close he came to dying.
But he said he can run a little easier, knowing judges are finally cracking down.