No doubt you’ve heard of MADD, that is, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This nonprofit advocacy group has been a visible part of American culture for over thirty years. You might have seen its commercials on TV. Or maybe a MADD group gave a presentation at your high school. But MADD is about more than just raising awareness. The organization has changed the way the United States looks at drunk driving. In addition, it has been pivotal in several important policies. And their work has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Read more about MADD’s work and history below.
MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving
¨Death changes us, the living. In the presence of death, we become more aware of life… It can inspire us to decide what really matters in life–and then to seek it.¨
-Candace Lightner, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving
On May 3rd, 1980, Cari Anne Lightner, age 13, was walking to a church carnival, when a car struck and killed her. The driver of the car was Clarence Busch. Busch, who was drunk, had three prior drunk driving convictions in the previous four years. In fact, he was out on bail from another hit and run. Nonetheless, his driver’s license was still valid. Busch hit Cari Anne so hard, she came out of her shoes. And then, leaving her in the road to die, he went home and passed out.
A jury found Busch guilty of vehicular manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to a mere two years in a halfway house. During those two years, he even drove to and from work. What’s more, he finished his sentence early, with time off for good behavior.
If that wasn’t enough, when Busch finished his sentence, he went right back to drunk driving. Not long after his release, he killed another young lady, Carrie Sinnott, also while drunk driving.
Cari Lightner’s mother, Candace Lightner, would found Mothers Against Drunk Driving later that year. A similar tragedy inspired MADD co-founder, Cindi Lamb.
Cindi and her infant daughter, Laura, were on their way to the grocery store when another multiple offense drunk driver, Russell Newcomer, hit them head-on. The impact threw Cindi out of the car, knocked her unconscious, and broke fourteen bones below her waist. Baby Laura was thrown from her car seat and became paralyzed from the waist down. She was only five months old.
MADD – Its Impact and Accomplishments
It takes a lot to anger a lot of mothers to the point of political action. But once that happens, mothers, fueled by righteous anger, are capable of changing the world. And MADD has done exactly that. In addition to influencing national drunk driving policy in the United States, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been behind one of the largest changes in public opinion in the twentieth century. And their work has cut down the number of drunk driving deaths by more than half. How did they do it? Through a sustained campaign of public education and political lobbying. Take a look at what they’ve accomplished.
Laws and Legislation
Raising the Drinking Age
Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaigned for increasing the national drinking age from 18 to 21. In 1984, they achieved it. President Ronald Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act into law on July 17 of that year. The NIH estimates that this, combined with zero tolerance of underage drunk driving, saves one thousand lives per year.
Lowering the Legal Blood Alcohol Limit
MADD helped to reduce the nationwide legal limit of blood alcohol concentration from 0.1% to 0.08%. In addition, they encouraged 42 states to suspend an offender’s license after the first offense. Other fines and penalties vary by state, but they have all become more severe. States set the legal limit for drivers under 21, and it’s much, much stricter — between 0.0 and 0.02.
Higher Penalties for Drunk Driving
Eighteen months in a halfway house for vehicular manslaughter, with no loss of driving privileges? Not anymore. Now, a first DWI offense in most states results in a suspended license. The suspension can last from 30 days to one year. Some states have an even stricter suspension for people who refuse to take a breathalyzer or other exam. Many states also require the installation of a breathalyzer interlock — a device that will not allow the car to start, unless the driver has taken, and passed a breathalyzer exam. Even for a first offense. And in many places, you may even lose your car.
A Shift in Public Attitude
A lot of people used to consider driving drunk a joke. A rite of passage. Talking about “one for the road” wasn’t unusual. And the law wasn’t much better. Remember, the man who killed Cari Lightner spent eighteen months in a halfway house, with no further penalty. A lot of people considered drunkenness a defense to killing someone with a car. As if being drunk made the crime somehow accidental, or worse, more forgivable.
But, thanks to MADD’s aggressive public education campaigns, people realize how serious drunk driving actually is. There is a widespread opinion that drunk driving is avoidable and wrong. Taxi companies sometimes offer free rides home for people who have had too much to drink. Bars will often comp sodas, waters, and juices for designated drivers. And nobody considers drunk driving a joke anymore.
The Victim Impact Panel
Mothers Against Drunk Driving pioneered the idea for a victim impact panel in 1985. A victim impact panel consists of people who have been injured by, or who have lost a loved one because of an impaired driver. The panel members tell their stories, emphasizing how drunk or drugged driving forever changed their lives. The purpose of a victim impact panel is to show offenders first hand how their impaired driving causes trauma, injury, financial loss, anger, and suffering.
Sometimes referred to MADD classes — or MADD VIP (Victim Impact Panel) classes — some judges require people to attend them following a conviction of impaired driving. In addition, some states allow victims to make a victim impact statement to the court prior to sentencing. The statement helps the judge to consider the effects of the crime on the victims or their families when deciding the sentence. Also, with both victim impact panels and victim impact statements, victims benefit from being able to share their stories and, hopefully, prevent future tragedy.
Many, Many Lives Saved
MADD’s most important accomplishment, however, has been a drastic reduction in deaths due to drunk driving. As a result of their advocacy, education, and lobbying efforts, alcohol-related vehicle deaths have been halved. Before 1980, the year MADD formed, alcohol caused two-thirds of vehicular deaths in people aged 16 to 20. Now, that number is closer to one third. Between 1982 and 2001, a reduction in driving after drinking saved more than 150,000 lives. That’s more than the combined total of lives saved by increases in seat belt use, airbags, and bicycle and motorcycle helmets.
Drunk Teen Driving
According to the National Institutes of Health, raising the national drinking age to 21 has resulted in less teen drinking. In addition, the law has reduced alcohol-related accidents among drivers under 21. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that this combination saves 1,000 lives per year. Also, the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths among 16 to 20 year-olds in the U.S. decreased from 5,244 in 1982 to 1,987 in 2008. This, says the NHS, is largely because of the legal drinking age of 21 and Zero Tolerance Laws.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This is undoubtedly the case with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. From changing the laws to changing the way people think about getting behind the wheel while impaired, MADD’s work has changed the world.
Featured Image is CC BY 2.0, by NC Vision Zero, via Flickr.