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Every single day in the United States, 28 people die in a car crash that involves a driver who is under the influence of and impaired by alcohol, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes. This equates to just more than one death every hour of every day in America.

After the senseless death of her 13-year-old daughter Cari, who was killed by a drunk driver, Candace Lightner began feverishly working in her home state of California to raise awareness about drunk driving and to attempt to illicit change in drunk driving laws. Together with another mother, Cindi Lamb, whose child was a victim of a crash with an alcohol-impaired driver, the grassroots nonprofit organization Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, or MADD, was founded and incorporated in Sacramento, California on September 5th of 1980.

MADD hosted its first national press conference in October of that year, with the mission of raising public awareness regarding the hazards of drunk and drugged driving, and to help victims and families of victims who had been involved in a crash with an impaired driver. In 1984, MADD changed their name to Mothers Against Drunk Driving to explain that their mission is about the action and not the person specifically.

Over the years, MADD has worked tirelessly to influence DUI (driving under the influence) laws, increase public awareness about underage drinking and impaired driving, save lives, and help victims and their families.

History and Success of MADD

Since 1980, MADD reports that they have helped to cut drunk driving deaths in half, saved around 350,000 lives, and helped more than 850,000 victims. Today, there are several hundred local MADD chapters spread throughout the US and Canada. The journal World Psychiatry publishes that the MADD campaign has helped to get over 1,000 new laws involving alcohol passed on both a local and national level, including laws regarding server liability, the setting up of sobriety checkpoints, and raising the minimum drinking age. MADD has also influenced public perception of drunk driving, putting faces to the victims to highlight that these are not "accidents" but rather instances of avoidable violence and that the crime is not "victimless."

MADD publishes an annual comparative legislative titled "Rating of the States/Provinces," which uses a five-star ranking system to show the public how each state is doing with its efforts to prevent impaired driving. As fatalities related to alcohol- or drug-impaired crashes are preventable, MADD's current mission is to eliminate all of these deaths. MADD claims that they will not stop their campaign until there are no deaths related to drunk or drugged driving.

A general timeline of MADD follows:

  • 1980: MADD was founded and incorporated.
  • 1981: MADD hosts the first candlelight vigil to honor victims, and the organization explodes onto the national scene.
  • 1982: MADD joins the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving created by President Reagan. The Howard-Barnes Alcohol Traffic Safety Law is passed, which gives states financial incentive to pass laws lowering the legal BAC levels for impaired driving from 0.15 percent to 0.1 percent.
  • 1983: MADD centralizes its main national office by moving to Texas from California.
  • 1984: MADD influences the passing of the federal National Minimum Legal Drinking Act (MLDA), raising the legal drinking age to 21 years old. This law restricts people under the age of 21 from purchasing or publicly consuming alcohol, which helped to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes by a median of 16 percent.
  • 1985: MADD seeks to influence social perception of drunk driving by changing the word accident to crash. Victims are encouraged to help people understand that drunk driving crashes are criminal and unacceptable.
  • 1986: MADD launches what will become their longest-running public awareness campaign that today is called Tie One on for Safety (originally it was called Project Red Ribbon). This campaign distributes red ribbons during the holiday season (between Thanksgiving and Christmas) for people to tie on to their vehicles as a pledge to not drink and drive, and to hopefully encourage others to abide by it as well. MADD also publicly coins the term designated driver and seeks to entrench the idea of someone volunteering to stay sober and drive others home into everyone's consciousness.
  • 1988: All 50 states and the District of Columbia agree to uphold the MLDA, and drinking among those 18-20 years old decreases by nearly 20 percent, the CDC publishes.
  • 1989: Victim impact panels (VIPs) are established by MADD, which serve to help victims of drunk driving crashes and their families heal as well as provide people who did drink and drive with the chance to recognize the consequences of their actions and hopefully prevent drunk driving incidents in the future.
  • 1990: MADD is instrumental in the facilitation of sobriety checkpoints, which are upheld as being constitutional this year, the CDC Some states still view them as unconstitutional, and today, they are authorized in 38 states and the District of Columbia. A sobriety checkpoint stops vehicles at designated locations to check for impairment, hoping to deter drinking and driving, and take those who are impaired off the roads.
  • 1995: MADD influences policy and helps to get zero tolerance passed into federal law. The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 offered financial incentive to states who made it illegal for anyone under the MLDA to drive with any amount of alcohol in their bodies, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publishes. By 1998, all states are compliant, and NHTSA reports that underage drinking and driving motor vehicle crashes were reduced by around one-quarter and even more in areas where the law was heavily publicized.
  • 1996: MADD increases their mission statement to include the prevention of underage drinking, hosting their first National Youth Summit.
  • 1997: org is launched, giving MADD an online presence.
  • 2000: MADD's hard-fought battle to get the legal drinking and driving BAC limit lowered to 0.08 percent in all 50 states is won as the Department of Transportation's 2001 Appropriations Act sets forth that all states must enact a 0.08 per se law by 2004 in order to receive certain federal funding, NHTSA All states comply by 2004.
  • 2005: MADD Victim Services begins using the term survivor and institutes a 24-hour victim helpline to "help survivors survive."
  • 2006: The Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving is instituted, and New Mexico becomes the first state to pass a law requiring all DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) publishes that all 50 states have some kind of law regarding ignition interlocks, and half of all the states have mandatory ignition interlock laws in place for all drunk driving offenses.
  • 2010: MADD partners with the National Football League (NFL) to provide a game-day program for fans to volunteer to play the all-important role of designated driver. As part of this partnership, the NFL also agrees that clubs and players will participate in "WALK LIKE MADD" community and fundraising events.
  • 2011: MADD launches the Power of Parents, which invites parents of high school students to have open and honest discussions with their children about the dangers of underage drinking, and drinking and driving.
  • 2012: Power of You(th) is launched by MADD as a school-based program to encourage teenagers and high school students to talk to their peers about the dangers of drinking and to not get in the car with those who have been drinking.
  • 2015: MADD expands the Power of Parents program to include parents of middle school children, hoping to prevent underage drinking before it starts.
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The Importance of the Organization

MADD is a longstanding organization that has advocated for stricter laws about underage drinking, and drinking and driving, in an attempt to reduce problems associated with both. MADD also serves victims, families, and survivors of drunk driving crashes and tragic deaths.

Opponents of MADD argue that the organization focuses too heavily on a zero-tolerance policy for drinking. MADD encourages complete sobriety and abstinence from drinking. Other organizations, such as the International Drunk Driving Prevention Association (IDDPA), are not against drinking alcohol, but instead encourage people to drink responsibly and aim to prevent drunk driving and crashes related to impaired drivers.

Arguably, MADD has been extremely influential, not only in affecting public policy and legislation, but also in changing public perception and social policy. As a grassroots organization, MADD has brought the crimes and tragedy of drunk driving consequences into the light, offering hope and encouragement for survivors, victims, and their families while also advocating for preventative efforts and positive change.

Unfortunately, while MADD has a proven success record of helping to reduce alcohol-related crashes in the past, drunk driving deaths rose in 2016. According to CBS, it may be one of the worst years on record for impaired-driving fatalities. Even though the public is aware of the dangers, NCADD warns that as many as two out of every three people will be in some kind of drunk driving crash in their lifetime.

Drinking and driving do not mix, but people still do it. Programs and organizations like MADD help to reduce instances of drunk driving, and prevent future alcohol-related crashes and deaths.