Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a grassroots organization with more than 2 million members and local chapters throughout the United States, Canada, Guam, and Puerto Rico. It is estimated that since MADD’s inception in 1980, alcohol-related traffic fatalities have declined 43%. In 1980, 55% (28,100) of the nation’s 51,091 traffic deaths were alcohol related. By 1999, alcohol-related deaths comprised 38% (15,794) of the nation’s 41,345 traffic fatalities.
The organization began in 1980 as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. It was inspired when 13-yearold Cari Lightner was killed by a drunk driver in California who just 2 days earlier had been released on bail for a hit-and-run drunk driving accident. He had two prior drunk driving convictions, and a third charge had been plea-bargained to “reckless accident.” Cari’s mother, Candace Lightner, gathered forces with a group of friends in Sacramento to fight to keep drunk drivers off the road, and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers was formed. Another chapter was formed shortly afterward in Maryland by Cindi Lamb, whose 5-month-old daughter Laura had become a quadriplegic the year before when they were hit by a repeat drunk driving offender speeding at 120 mph. MADD’s growth began to accelerate as it started receiving national attention. In 1982, President Reagan formed a presidential task force on drunk driving and invited MADD to serve on it. In March 1983, NBC produced a made-for-television movie about Candace Lightner’s story and the formation of MADD, and more than 120 new chapters were formed that month alone. In 1984, the name was changed to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, reflecting the emphasis on the act of drunk driving, not on the individuals involved. Currently, MADD has over 600 chapters and is the nation’s largest crime victim’s assistance organization.
The stated mission of MADD is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of drunk driving, and prevent underage drinking. This mission is supported by efforts in four main areas: public awareness, victim assistance, youth programs, and public policy.
MADD sponsors a 40-hour advocate education training program that has been completed by more than 1,200 victim advocates. These advocates assist drunk driving victims through toll-free numbers, local advocate services, and assistance with the legal process, as well as a range of books and publications developed by MADD.
MADD popularized the concept of “designated drivers” in the 1980s as a means to help keep drunk drivers off the roads. Project Red Ribbon was also introduced in the mid-1980s, and red ribbons were displayed by motorists who pledged to drive sober during the Christmas and New Years holidays. MADD continues to focus on public awareness through media campaigns and various education efforts.
Preventing underage drinking has increasingly become a focus of the organization. MADD currently conducts a host of programs targeting youth, including alcohol-free prom parties, speeches in high schools, and resource materials such as classroom newsletters and even coloring books for the younger grades. Since attitudes about drinking are formed at a young age, MADD begins with elementary age children and has developed the program Protecting You/Protecting Me, which has been recognized by the federal government as a scientifically proven effective prevention program. In 1997, the first MADD National Youth Summit to Prevent Underage Drinking was held, and in 1998, the first youth representative to MADD’s Board of Directors was elected.
MADD claims that their efforts have resulted in the passage of thousands of federal and state drunk driving laws since the early 1980s. These have included the passage in 1984 of a federal law requiring all states to increase the legal drinking age to 21 or lose highway funding, the 1988 Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which grants victims of driving while intoxicated (DWI) crashes the same compensation rights as victims of other crimes, and a push for states to reduce the legal blood alcohol concentration from .10 to .08. MADD has been involved in the passage of more than 2,300 state and federal anti–drunk driving and underage drinking laws and has advocated for stricter penalties for repeat drunk driving offenders across the country.