An Interview with MADD California Executive Director Gary McDonald 1

For decades, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has provided a voice for the families and victims of drunk driving. They’ve effectively advocated for stricter penalties and better methods of prevention while raising the national awareness of the awful things that can happen when people drive drunk.

MADD California is the local arm of this organization, and one of the five street safety charities participating in GJEL’s Winter Charity Contest (Vote here!). We’ll be interviewing someone from each organization during this week. I talked with MADD California Executive Director Gary McDonald about the increased risk of drunk driving around the holidays, and what his organization is doing to help protect Californians.

GJEL: Do you see an increase in drunk driving during the holidays? What are you guys doing to get involved?

MADD: We’re concerned about drunk driving the whole year round, but it’s likely that more people are drinking during the holidays, which means its more likely that people are going to be driving drunk.

We have a couple programs going now, one called Tie One On For Safety, which is a reminder for people not to drink or drive during the holidays. We’re really proud of the program, which has been around since 1986. It’s an annual campaign that calls for drivers to wear a red ribbon of support of law enforcement crackdowns and its also a reminder to drive safe and sober.

GJEL: Is there anything that makes California, specifically, a challenge during the holidays?

MADD: If someone wants to drink, they’re going to drink. But my thought is that if the weather is inclement, they’re actually likely to drink less because of the weather. They don’t apply that same common sense with drinking and driving, ironically.

GJEL: But you must be happy with the work California has done to prevent drunk driving.

MADD: Yes! I think the Office of Traffic Safety is doing an excellent job with the number of sobriety check points they’re holding–500 checkpoints in the last year, which far surpasses any other state. California is doing an excellent job and of course we thank and recognize our law enforcement in this effort and provide support to them with volunteer at D.U.I. checkpoints.

GJEL: California seems to be pretty aggressive on this front.

MADD: California is doing a great job. There are still a couple things we’d like to change. California recently got 4 stars out of 5 stars based on a number of criterion, and the one star we didn’t get was that we don’t have an interlock law across California (interlock is the breathalyzers connected to the ignition in a car). We have a pilot program in 4 counties, but we’d like to see the interlock program go statewide.

GJEL: What are some of the other long-term projects you’re working on?

MADD: We get involved with a lot of different legislation, some we’re for, some we’re against. For example, we were a sponsor of AB183, which requires face-to-face interaction for alcohol sales. That begins January 31, and that’s something we were behind and it passed.

There’s also been some recent legislation that’s very concerning: AB353. This bill basically allows people without driver’s licenses to pass through D.U.I. checkpoints so that their car is not impounded. The car is moved over to the side until a licensed driver picks up the car and moves it.

It used to be that person could be impounded for up to 30 days, just held for safe keeping. So now they’re going to get their car back sooner and that starts January 31st.

GJEL: If the drunk person isn’t driving, why is that such a big deal?

MADD: Because people who don’t have drivers licenses are five times more likely to kill someone in a crash! It’s not just drunk driving, we’re also concerned with drugged driving and we’re also concerned with people without driver’s licenses. We don’t want people drunk on bikes or drunk pedestrians because people get killed.

GJEL: That’s quite the statistic. So you guys are working on issues that go beyond drunk driving.

MADD: We’re concerned about human life. It’s important that people use common sense. Of course our mission is to stop drop drunk driving and support the victims of this violent crime and stop under-aged drinking. But it’s a broader spectrum than people realize with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

GJEL: Any special advice for the Holidays?

MADD: Well there will be more D.U.I. checkpoints during this time, which is one of the best drunk driving deterrents out there.

We don’t really target any particular demo during this time. It’s more don’t drink and drive during the holidays. Don’t drive drunk. Make arrangements. The easiest one is to designate a driver.

Be sure to check back this week for more interviews with some of California’s most important street safety organizations, and don’t forget to vote to help your favorite one win $1,500!


Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.