Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a non-profit advocacy group that works for tougher DUI laws and eliminating drunk/drugged driving. In addition to influencing DUI legislature and enforcement, they run a Victim Impact Program that some California DUI convicts are required to attend.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD is unquestionably the most well-known anti-DUI organization in the United States, and probably in the world. It was originally founded in California, and has had a massive impact on how DUI is viewed nationwide—both by the public and by our lawmakers. MADD has had many positive accomplishments, but is also often criticized for over-criminalizing DUI. In many ways, the harsh penalties DUI drivers face today can be traced directly to MADD’s efforts.

In California, many drivers convicted of DUI are also required to attend a MADD program designed to scare them into not drunk driving again.

How did MADD start?

Madd started as a noble project of a mother who had just suffered the tragic loss of her daughter. In 1980, Candace Lightner learned that her 13-year old daughter, Cari, had been hit and killed by a drunk driver. The driver in question was a repeat offender, and Lightner didn’t understand why he had been allowed to drink and drive over and over. She founded MADD in an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving and prevent others from being hurt or killed.

Since then, MADD has become a major organization with offices in every US state and Canadian province.

What does MADD do?

MADD started by simply raising awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence. Prior to 1980, many people had a very casual attitude toward driving drunk, much as people do about talking on cell phones today. It was understood that drunk driving was risky, but the risk wasn’t always taken seriously. As a result, there were many accidents and fatalities related to DUI, but little public outcry.

MADD helped change that. Since the 1980s, there has been a massive decrease in DUI-related deaths. The average driver knows that DUI is a problem, and most people hesitate to drive if they’ve been drinking heavily. There is no question that MADD has saved lives.

MADD has also influenced legislation, however, and not everybody would agree that all of their work has been beneficial. In fact, many people—including many DUI defense lawyers—criticize MADD’s tactics.

Why do people criticize MADD?

The reason is simple. While raising awareness about DUI has saved lives, MADD’s work has also led to extreme sentences for drunk drivers, even those who are first-time offenders or didn’t hurt anyone. MADD has influenced the “criminalization” of DUI drivers—treating them as violent criminals. For example, even a first-time DUI in California can cost a driver nearly $16,000, lead to jail time, cost you your driver’s license, and even affect your career. This is simply too much for a non-violent offender who made a single mistake. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to roll back this kind of change.

MADD’s tactics have also become increasingly aggressive even though the total number of drunk driving incidents, and DUI fatalities, are both at an all-time low. MADD advocates increasingly draconian measures to prevent or punish repeat DUI drivers, even though repeat offenders often have a substance addiction and do not stop in the face of greater legal penalties. In other words, their efforts are making the laws stricter and stricter without actually continuing to reduce drunk driving.

Other controversial efforts by MADD include:

  • An effort to require all new cars to have built-in ignition interlock devices, so that any driver (even with no DUI history) is required to give a breath sample to start their car. This would raise car prices and potentially prevent people from driving even with trace amounts of alcohol in their system, such as the morning after a wedding reception.
  • Seeing to raise the excise tax on beer, which would punish all drinkers, not just those who drink and drive.
  • Promoting the use of DUI roadblocks, which stop all drivers including those not suspected or accused of any crime. In addition to inconveniencing drivers, these roadblocks have raised questions about police overreach and the constitutionality of stopping citizens who had done nothing wrong.

Nonetheless, MADD is closely involved with many state governments, including California, and their programs can actually be required for DUI offenders.

What is the Victim Impact Program and why would I be required to attend one?

MADD’s Victim Impact Program (VIP) is a presentation that uses “scare tactics” to convince DUI offenders never to drive under the influence again. It was conceived of as a way to show drivers the true impact of DUI, so that they know that their actions affect others and can even take lives. In California, many drivers convicted of DUI are required to attend the program as part of their probation. Failing to attend can result in jail and other penalties.

If the judge orders you to attend a VIP, you will need to register for one and get documentation that you completed it. A typical VIP is a single meeting that lasts approximately two and a half hours. The meeting may include:

  • A talk by a person whose life has been negatively impacted by an intoxicated driver. This may be an individual who was badly hurt or disabled by a DUI accident, or someone who lost a close loved one to a DUI. This is often an unpleasant experience for those attending.
  • A slideshow about the dangers and impact of DUI, potentially including disturbing images from DUI accidents.
  • In some cases, a member of law enforcement will also give a talk.

The people who are required to attend these programs sometimes report that the tone of the meeting is confrontational. It is rarely a positive experience.

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