It’s amazing what one mother’s love can accomplish. In 1980, the year Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), more than 21,000 Americans were killed in automobile accidents involving at least one driver impaired by alcohol. Today, nearly 35 years later, that number has decreased by around 50 percent. MADD is one of the most successful grassroots efforts of our time and still a very powerful lobbying force.
It started with tragedy
Candy Lightner didn’t look to be an activist. In 1980, she was a housewife and mother until her world was shattered when her 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver with multiple DUI offenses on his record. Just days after the funeral, the grieving mother stood in her daughter’s bedroom and vowed to help prevent needless deaths like her daughter’s. She was joined by a handful of other mothers who had lost children in drunk driving accidents. The rest is MADD history.
What MADD has accomplished
In the 35 years since its founding, MADD has not only dramatically reduced the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths each year, but they have changed the way America looks at drinking and driving. In 1980, driving after a couple of drinks was considered no big deal in most circles. There were even jokes about it, and people boasted about how well they could drive “under the influence.” At that time, penalties for DUI offenses were mild, usually involving just a fine.
Today, a generation later, drinking and driving is the taboo that it should always have been, thanks in large part to the efforts of MADD. One meeting, one politician, one citizen at a time, they put a face to the victims of drunk driving, until the people who had died were no longer statistics, but someone’s son, daughter, mother, husband or wife. From their first office set up in Cari Lightner’s bedroom, they made it as personal to the rest of us as it was to them.
Over the years, MADD has been instrumental in getting drunk driving laws passed and the legal acceptable blood alcohol level reduced. By 1982, more stringent DUI laws were introduced in 35 states and passed by 24 states. A year later, 129 new DUI laws had passed, and the snowball effect continued. They also got the support of the federal government for raising the legal drinking age to 21, and in 1983 President Reagan signed the Uniform Drinking Age Act into law. In 2000, after years of lobbying, President Clinton signed legislation that would effectively lower the legal blood alcohol level in the US to .08.
Today, MADD is still as dedicated and as active as they were 35 years ago. Their education campaign and their lobbying continue. To this organization, the work won’t be done until not a single person dies or is injured in a traffic accident involving a drunk driver.