The Creation of MADD and RID and Their Effects on Public Health

In 1980, Candy Lightner gave a speech about a 13-year-old girl who was killed by a drunk driver with prior arrests for drunken driving. The audience gasped when she said, "That little girl was my daughter." Her speech launched the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD. It became a high profile advocacy organization against drunk driving, weak prosecutors, and lenient judges. Her daughter, Cari, was the catalyst for the reshaping of American thinking about drunk drivers who until then had been thought of as rebels or comic figures.

Her death at the hands of the driver who had 4 prior DUI arrests, one just 2 days earlier, catapulted American thinking into the modern era of classifying drunken drivers as criminals. Around the same time, Journalist Doris Aiken investigated the deaths of two teenagers caused by a drunk driver in New York. She found that the drunks routinely received slaps on the wrist even when they had prior convictions and had killed someone. The drunk driving incidents were routinely characterized as "accidents" instead of negligence or homicide, and the victims were seen as having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fed up with the "one for the road" mentality, Aiken formed the organization called RID, Remove Intoxicated Drivers. It and MADD replaced the old mindset with the belief that "Friends don't let friends drive drunk." By 1985, the annual number of deaths from drunk driving had decreased precipitously. Yet, there is more to do.

For their own safety, citizens of communities that are too permissive of drinking, especially during events like Spring Break, should insist that their city councils pass laws reasonably restricting alcohol sales. Regardless of where one lives, everyone can help in his own way. I sue drunk drivers who injure people. That has a deterrent effect on repeated drunken driving. And you, as I do, can call 911 to report the location and direction of a driver weaving in traffic. Together, we can and will save lives.

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