Mothers Against Drunk Driving Explained

Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Headquarters:Irving, Texas
Affiliations:MADD Canada

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, is a non-profit organization that seeks to stop drunk driving, support those affected by drunk driving and prevent underage drinking. The Irving, Texas–based organization was founded in 1980 by Candice Lightner after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Clarence Busch, a 46-year-old cannery worker.[1]


Generally MADD favours:


Candice Lightner was the organizer and founding president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In 1980, Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunken hit-and-run driver as she walked down a suburban street in California. The impact of the accident broke almost every bone in her body and fractured her skull, yet the driver left her dead body at the scene. "I promised myself on the day of Cari’s death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead," Candy Lightner later wrote. A 1983 television movie about Lightner resulted in publicity for the group, which grew rapidly.

In the early 1980s, the group attracted the attention of the United States Congress. At a time when alcohol consumption laws (particularly the drinking age) varied greatly by state, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg was a notable early supporter. Lautenberg did not like the fact that youth in New Jersey could easily travel into New York to purchase alcoholic beverages, thereby circumventing New Jersey's law restricting consumption to those 21-years-old and over.[3] The group had its greatest success with the imposition of a 1984 federal law, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, that introduced a federal penalty (a 5% - later raised to 10% - loss of federal highway dollars), for states that didn't raise to 21 the minimum legal age for the purchase and possession of alcohol. After the United States Supreme Court upheld the law in the 1987 case of South Dakota v. Dole, every state and the District of Columbia capitulated by 1988 (but not the territories of Puerto Rico and Guam).

In 1988, a drunk driver traveling the wrong way on Interstate 71 in Kentucky caused a head-on collision with a school bus. Twenty seven people died and dozens more were injured in the ensuing fire. The Carrollton bus disaster in 1988 equaled the another bus crash in Kentucky in 1958 as the deadliest bus crash in U.S. history. In the aftermath, several parents of the victims became actively involved in MADD, and one became its national president. In 1990, MADD introduced its "20 by 2000" plan to reduce the proportion of traffic fatalities that are alcohol-related 20 percent by the year 2000. This goal was accomplished three years early, in 1997. That same year, MADD Canada was founded.[4]

In 1991, MADD released its first "Rating the States" report, grading the states in their progress against drunk driving. "Rating the States" has been released four times since then.

In 1999, MADD’s National Board of Directors unanimously voted to change the organization’s mission statement to include the prevention of underage drinking.[5]

In 2002, MADD announced an "Eight-Point Plan". This comprised:

  1. Resuscitate the nation's efforts to prevent impaired driving.
  2. Increase driving while intoxicated (DWI)/driving under the influence (DUI) enforcement, especially the use of frequent, highly publicized sobriety checkpoints.
  3. Enact primary enforcement seat belt laws in all states.
  4. Create tougher, more comprehensive sanctions geared toward higher-risk drivers.
  5. Develop a dedicated National Traffic Safety Fund.
  6. Reduce underage drinking.
  7. Increase beer excise taxes to the same level as those for spirits.
  8. Reinvigorate court monitoring programs.[6]

In a November 2006 press release, MADD launched its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving: this is a four-point plan to completely eliminate drunk driving in the United States using a combination of current technology (such as alcohol ignition interlock devices), new technology in smart cars, law enforcement, and grass roots activism.[7]


According to the Obama-Coburn Federal Funding Accountability Transparency Act of 2006, MADD received $9,593,455 in funds from the federal government between fiscal years 2001 and 2006, but received only $56,814 in fiscal year 2000.[8]

Activities and impact

Drunk driving laws

Since the group's inception, thousands of anti-drunk driving laws have been passed. MADD also helped popularize the use of designated drivers, although at first it opposed the practice because it might enable non-drivers to consume more. More recently, MADD was heavily involved in lobbying to reduce the legal limit for blood alcohol from BAC .10 to BAC .08.In 2000, this standard was passed by Congress and by 2005, every state had an illegal .08 BAC limit.MADD Canada has called for a maximum legal BAC of .05. Although many MADD leaders have supported a lower limit,[9] MADD U.S. has not yet officially called for a legal limit of .05.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) supports legislation setting the illegal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for adult drivers who have been previously convicted of DUI/DWI at .05 per se. This lower BAC limit shall apply to these offenders for a period of five years from date of conviction and they shall be required to provide a breath test if requested by an officer following a legal traffic stop.[10]

MADD has successfully advocated, and continues to advocate, for the enactment of laws for even more strict and severe punishment of offenders of laws against driving under the influence, as well as laws against drinking and driving.

Declines in drunk driving deaths

The death rate from alcohol-related traffic accidents has declined since the 1980s. According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),[11] alcohol related deaths per year have declined from 26,173 in 1982 to 16,885 in 2005. MADD has argued that the group's efforts have brought about this decrease, because it claims that alcohol-related fatalities declined more than did non-alcohol-related fatalities.

However, NHTSA's definition of "alcohol-related" deaths includes all deaths on U.S. highways involving any measurable amount of alcohol (i.e. >0.01% BAC) in any person involved, including pedestrians. In 2001, for example, the NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System estimated an annual total of 17,448 alcohol-related deaths. The NHTSA breakdown of this estimate is that 8,000 deaths involved only a single car and in most of those cases the only death was the drunk driver, 5,000 sober victims were killed by legally drunk drivers, and there were 2,500 to 3,500 crash deaths in which no driver was legally drunk but alcohol was detected.[12] [13] . Furthermore, some of the sober victims undoubtedly included those willing passengers of the drunk drivers. It should also be noted that vehicle safety has been improved since the 1980s, and this has likely resulted in a decrease in all auto fatalities, including alcohol-related deaths. Also, public attitudes are more negative toward drunk driving than they were in the early 1980s[14] . The data also uses raw numbers rather than per capita rates. That being said, however, the number of "alcohol-related" deaths have dropped more so than non-alcohol-related ones (which actually increased in the late 1980s)[15], which shows that the decrease in the former largely drove the substantial decrease in the total fatalities since 1982.In 1999, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluated the effectiveness of state .08% BAC laws in reducing the number and severity of crashes involving alcohol. It stated, "Overall, the evidence does not conclusively establish that .08% BAC laws, by themselves, result in reductions in the number and severity of alcohol-related crashes. There are, however, strong indications that .08% BAC laws in combination with other drunk driving laws (particularly license revocation laws), sustained public education and information efforts, and vigorous and consistent enforcement can save lives."[16]

Minimum drinking age laws

MADD argues that, given that the brain does not stop developing until the early to mid-20s, alcohol consumption damages brain development.[17] Being a major force for having raised the drinking age, MADD also cites NHTSA data that the 21 minimum drinking age law has saved 17,000 lives since 1988.[18]

However, evidence of harm to brain development is based on studies of rats[19] and severe alcohol abusers[20] rather than social (moderate) drinking humans. The age in human years[21] of the adolescent rats in many studies[22] often corresponds to very early adolescence (10-13 years, as opposed to 18-20). Also, the NHTSA data is giving complete credit to the drinking age for lowering drunk driving accidents in young adults, and (as stated before) defines "alcohol related" as anytime a person involved in a crash had any measurable amount of alcohol, no matter how small. In contrast, most professionals agree that education about the dangers of drunk driving as well as greater penalties for driving drunk were the main factors in the drop in traffic deaths.

Victim impact panels

MADD promotes the use of victim impact panels (VIPs), in which judges require DWI offenders to hear victims or relatives of victims of drunk driving crashes relate their experiences. MADD received $3,749,000 in 2004 from VIPs; much of this income was voluntary donations by those attending as some states, such as California, do not allow a fee to be charged to offenders for non-legislative programs. Some states in the United States, such as Massachusetts, permit victims of all crimes, including drunk driving accidents, to give "victim impact statements" prior to sentencing so that judges and prosecutors can consider the impact on victims in deciding on an appropriate sentence to recommend or impose. The presentations are often emotional, detailed, and graphic, and focus on the tragic negative consequences of DWI and alcohol-related crashes. According to the John Howard Society, some studies have shown that permitting victims to make statements and to give testimony is psychologically beneficial to them and aids in their recovery and in their satisfaction with the criminal justice system.[23] However, a New Mexico study suggested that the VIPs tended to be perceived as confrontational by multiple offenders. Such offenders then had a higher incidence of future offenses.[24]

Operating hours and availability of alcohol

MADD has generally taken the position that a decrease in the availability of alcohol will lead to a decrease in consumption, and therefore a decrease in drunk driving.


On April 29, 2008 MADD issued a press release criticizing the video game Grand Theft Auto IV saying it was "extremely disappointed" with the manufacturers. MADD has called on the ESRB to re-rate the game to Adults Only. They also called on the manufacturer (Rockstar) "to consider a stop in distribution – if not out of responsibility to society then out of respect for the millions of victims/survivors of drunk driving.".[25] Players can drive drunk in Grand Theft Auto IV but doing so makes it harder to drive.[26] The game also explicitly recommends that the player take a taxi instead of driving, and the player avatar makes audio comments suggesting against drunk driving; moreover, if any police officer is around while the player is drunk driving, the player immediately becomes wanted by the police.


Candy Lightner's departure

By 1985, many MADD leaders were calling for the criminalization of all driving after drinking any amount of alcoholic beverage. Lightner disagreed with this aim and said that police ought to be concentrating their resources on arresting drunk drivers, not those drivers who happen to have been drinking. Lightner stated that MADD "has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned … I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving".[27]

Civil liberty aspects

William F. Buckley, Jr., a conservative activist, was at times critical of policies MADD supports, although he generally avoided singling out the organization. In a 2001 article, Buckley noted the paradox between political support for expanding the rights of youth in the 1960s, a movement that led to Congress enfranchising 18-year-olds, and the sudden rescinding of some rights youth enjoyed a mere two decades later. "We all know that up until the counter-Woodstock anti-alcohol putsch of a generation ago, drinking was permitted in most states after age 18. What seemed to happen simultaneously was that our lawmakers resolved (a) to forbid drinking until age 21, and (b) to permit voting at age 18," Buckley wrote. [28] Radley Balko, a writer for Reason Magazine, talks about the possible social implications of some of MADD's policies. He writes, "In its eight-point plan to 'jump-start the stalled war on drunk driving,' MADD advocates the use of highly publicized but random roadblocks to find drivers who have been drinking. Even setting aside the civil liberties implications, these checkpoints do little to get dangerous drunks off the road. Rather, they instill fear in people who have a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at a ballgame or a toast at a retirement party."

MADD writes that “opponents of sobriety checkpoints tend to be those who drink and drive frequently and are concerned about being caught”.[29]

Efficacy of MADD's proposals

See main article: Breath alcohol ignition interlock device. Additionally, MADD has proposed that breath alcohol ignition interlock devices should be installed in all new cars.Tom Incantalupo wrote [30] :

"Ultimately, the group said yesterday, it wants so-called alcohol interlock devices factory-installed in all new cars. "The main reason why people continue to drive drunk today is because they can," MADD president Glynn Birch said at a news teleconference from Washington, D.C."

Sarah Longwell, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Institute responded to MADD's desire to legislate breathalyzers into every vehicle in America by stating "This interlock campaign is not about eliminating drunk driving, it is about eliminating all moderate drinking prior to driving. The 40 million Americans who drink and drive responsibly should be outraged." She also points out that "Many states have laws that set the presumptive level of intoxication at .05% and you can't adjust your interlock depending on which state you're driving in. Moreover, once you factor in liability issues and sharing vehicles with underage drivers you have pushed the preset limit down to about .02%. It will be a de facto zero tolerance policy."[31]

Some point out that the policy assumes that citizens are guilty of drunkenness and requires them to prove themselves innocent not only before they drive but repeatedly while they drive[32]

A review of devices concluded, "The results of the study show that interlock works for some offenders in some contexts, but not for all offenders in all situations. More specifically, ignition interlock devices work best when they are installed, although there is also some evidence that judicial orders to install an interlock are effective for repeat DUI offenders, even when not all offenders comply and install a device. California’s administrative program, where repeat DUI offenders install an interlock device in order to obtain restricted driving privileges, is also associated with reductions in subsequent DUI incidents. One group for whom ignition interlock orders do not appear effective is first DUI offenders with high blood alcohol levels."[33]

MADD's mission

Some critics claim that MADD has shifted in emphasis from preventing DUI deaths and injuries to preventing underage alcohol use and that this is undermining the organization's original goal because MADD's leadership has stated that it's more important to stop drinking than it is to stop drunk driving fatalities. For example, the immediate past President of MADD, Glynn Byrch, wrote in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post:

Taking away a teenager's car keys and replacing them with a beer may prevent death and injury on the road but it sends a dangerous message to teenagers that it's okay to break the law.[34]

In 2005, John McCardell, Jr. wrote in The New York Times that "the 21-year-old drinking age is bad social policy and terrible law" that has made the college drinking problem far worse.[35]

Many who are otherwise sympathetic to MADD's cause feel the organization has gone too far. Balko argued in a December 2002 article that MADD's policies are becoming overbearing. "In fairness, MADD deserves credit for raising awareness of the dangers of driving while intoxicated. It was almost certainly MADD's dogged efforts to spark public debate that effected the drop in fatalities since 1980, when Candy Lightner founded the group after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver," Balko wrote. "But MADD is at heart a bureaucracy, a big one. It boasts an annual budget of $45 million, $12 million of which pays for salaries, pensions and benefits. Bureaucracies don't change easily, even when the problems they were created to address change."[36]

Blood alcohol content

MADD's critics assert that the organization is focused entirely upon the presence of alcohol in the body, rather than upon the actual danger posed by any impairment, while MADD's concern is the danger posed by the presence of a specified percentage of blood alcohol. Original drunk driving laws addressed the danger by making it a criminal offense to drive a vehicle while impaired — that is, while "under the influence of alcohol"; the amount of alcohol in the body was evidence of that impairment. The level specified at that time was so high (commonly .15%) that it was not impairment, but drunkenness. In part due to MADD's influence, all 50 states have now passed laws making it a criminal offense to drive with a designated level of alcohol, based on the presumption that all persons are impaired at the level specified.

Beer taxes

Balko criticizes MADD for not advocating higher excise taxes on distilled spirits, even though it campaigns for higher excise taxes for beer. He writes, "Interestingly, MADD refrains from calling for an added tax on distilled spirits, an industry that the organization has partnered with on various drunk driving awareness projects."[36] MADD writes, "Currently, the federal excise tax is $.05 per can of beer, $.04 for a glass of wine and $.12 for a shot of distilled spirits, which all contain about the same amount of alcohol."[6] Point 7 of MADD's 8-Point Plan is to "Increase beer excise taxes to equal the current excise tax on distilled spirits".[37]

High fundraising costs

In 1994, Money magazine reported that telemarketers raised over $38 million for MADD, keeping nearly half of it in fees. This relationship no longer exists. Overall, MADD reports that it spends 17% of its budget on fundraising, which is below average for an advocacy organization that is heavily dependent on many individual contributions. However, the American Institute of Philanthropy notes that MADD categorizes much of its fundraising expenses as "educational expenses." The American Institute of Philanthropy has given MADD poor grades for its high bureaucratic and fundraising costs[38] (MADD Money. Investigative report, K5 News, Seattle, WA.). In December 2001, Worth magazine listed MADD as one of its "100 best charities". Charity Navigator rates MADD as needing improvement.[39]

See also

External links

Notes and References

  1.,9171,956231-3,00.html Man of the Year
  2.,1056,7604,00.html Ignition Interlock - Issue Brief
  3. "21" turns 20
  4. Learn More
  5. Why has MADD changed its mission statement?
  6. MADD's Eight-Point Plan for Refocusing the Nation's Attention on Preventing Impaired Driving
  7. MADD Announces National Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving
  8. Federal Assistance for Nonprofits in Irving, Texas from 2001- 2006
  9. " Mothers Against Drunk Driving,"
  10. MADD's Position Statements: Other Positions
  11. "Total Traffic Fatalities vs. Alcohol Related Traffic Fatalities - 1982-2005," MADD Online; load date: November 17, 2006
  12. Vartabedian, Ralph. 2002.
  13. A Spirited Debate Over DUI Laws
  14. Public Opinion on Alcohol Policies, by Alexander C. Wagenaar and Fredrick M. Streff
  15. MADD: The First 25 Years
  16. HIGHWAY SAFETY: Effectiveness of State .08 Blood Alcohol Laws GAO/RCED-99-179
  17. Alcohol and the Teen Brain
  18. Brief History of the Drinking Age
  19. Alcohol, Adolescents, and Adults--Choose Responsibility
  20. Alcohol, Adolescents, and Adults--Choose Responsibility
  21. How old is a rat in human years?--Rat Behavior
  22. Neurogenesis in adolescent brain is potently inhibited by ethanol. F.T. Crews, A. Mdzinarishvili, D. Kim, J. He and K. Nixon Neuroscience
  23. Victum Impact Statements - John Howard Society of Alberta
  24. "A Randomized Trial of Victim Impact Panels’ DWI Deterrence Effectiveness," W. G. Woodall, H. Delaney, E. Rogers, & D. R. Wheeler; Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA), University of New Mexico
  26. Grand Theft Auto IV preview-splosion!
  27. Bresnahan, S. MADD struggles to remain relevant. Washington Times Metropolitan edition), August 6, 2002, B1-2 (
  28. "On the Right" by William F. Buckley Jr.
  29. Sobriety Checkpoints: Facts & Myths
  30. "MADD: Device Key to Keep Drinkers off Road", Newsday, November 21, 2006
  31. "MADD Interlock Campaign Targets Responsible Social Drinkers from a Yahoo! website
  32. Drunk Until Proven Innocent
  33. California Department of Motor Vehicles An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Ignition Interlock in California
  34. "Addressing Life's Perilous Pleasures," The Washington Post, Letters to the Editor section; Monday, August 15, 2005
  35. "What Your College President Didn't Tell You," McCardell Jr., John M.; The New York Times; op-ed section; September 13, 2004
  36. "Targeting the Social Drinker Is Just MADD," Balko, Radley (from the CATO Institute website)
  37.,1056,4395,00.html New 8-Point Plan To Jumpstart Stalled War On Drunk Driving
  38. Jayne O'Donnell MADD enters 25th year with change on its mind
  39. Charity Navigator Rating - Mothers Against Drunk Driving