Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD)

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In 1981, Robert Anastas, a health educator and hockey coach in Wayland, Massachusetts, stood helplessly by as two of his students died of injuries sustained in two separate alcohol-related traffic crashes. Anastas decided to fight back and developed a fifteen-session high school course on driving while impaired. Rather than a curriculum focusing solely on the effects of alcohol while driving, he taught strategies for preventing driving after drinking, and he emphasized the legal consequences of getting caught. In this sense, the curriculum was a significant departure from traditional driver-education approaches.

Students who took Anastas's course reacted enthusiastically and formed an organization to reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths among their peers. They initially called the organization Students Against Driving Drunk (SADD) in order to focus attention on the act of drunk driving, not on the drivers themselves. An anecdote related by Peggy Mann (1983) captures SADD's approach and philosophy: When a student jokingly suggested that SADD involve the governor, Anastas replied, "I believe that if you dream it, it can be done," and when the governor became the honorary chairman of SADD, its motto became "If You Dream It, It Can Be Done." Within a year, chapters had been formed throughout Massachusetts and the program was gaining national attention.

Members of the early SADD chapters had a number of goals. They sought to raise awareness of impaired driving among students through the curriculum developed by Anastas. They also sought to change norms related to impaired driving. Because they realized that most of their peers did not think of drinking and driving as wrong or risky, they reasoned that changing these norms was an important component of reducing impaired driving problems. As the students put it, they wanted to change the "drinking and driving is cool" image to another image: "Drinking and driving is dumb." Finally, students in the SADD chapters undertook to simulate discussion between high school students and their parents concerning drinking and driving. To meet this goal, they developed a "Contract for Life." The contract stipulated that a student would call a parent if he or she had been drinking or if the person responsible for driving had been drinking, and the parent, in turn, agreed to provide a ride or taxi fare.

SADD was significant in three important ways. First, it was among the earliest prevention programs to emphasize student leadership. Other programs had used peer educators or peer counselors trained and supervised by adults, but SADD chapters were run by students who planned activities and took responsibility for making them happen. Second, SADD was among the first youth programs to recognize the importance of norms in impaired-driving prevention. Earlier programs had emphasized education, attitude change, or scare tactics. Third, SADD was one of the first school-based prevention programs to venture outside the classroom. Although SADD had a curriculum, it also entailed extracurricular, community, and family involvement. In this sense, SADD was the first of the so-called comprehensive school-based prevention programs.

SADD's early growth was rapid. By the mid 1980s, there were SADD chapters in every state in the United States and chapters in Europe. SADD received considerable media attention and was the only alcohol-prevention program ever to be the subject of a nationally broadcast made-for-television movie ("Contract for Life: The Bob Anastas Story").

SADD was also controversial. Some vocal critics argued that SADD's emphasis on preventing drinking and driving implicitly condoned drinking by young people. They were particularly concerned about the Contract for Lifethey argued that by insuring safe transportation, parents were communicating the message that drinking itself was not a problem. Similar charges were leveled at Safe Rides and other programs that provided sober transportation for youth. Anastas and others countered that although drinking itself was a problem, young people were dying from traffic crashes, not just from drinking.

This debate, which resulted in the refusal by some funding agencies to allow grant money to be used to support SADD chapters, raged throughout the 1980s. SADD was also subject to criticism because of its acceptance of funding from the alcoholic beverage industry. In 1989, SADD divorced itself from this source of funds. It also adopted a strong "No Use" message and amended its Contract for Life to emphasize its commitment to a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. The organization specifically disassociates itself from "safe rides" and "designated driver" programs. However, it continues to characterize itself as an "inclusive, not exclusive" organization, recognizing that teenagers make mistakes and should not be punished for them.

Over the years, SADD has evolved. Junior high school and college programs have been added, as has an emphasis on seat-belt use. In 1997, in response to calls from its chapters, the organization amended its popular name to Students Against Destructive Decisions, incorporating in its mandate other potentially destructive behaviors such as underage drinking and drug use, teen suicide, violence, and HIV/AIDS. Today, SADD chapters focus primarily on education, awareness and peer support activities on a range of issues around risky behaviors. In recent years, several student safety clubs with very similar approaches to that of SADD have emerged. Members of these clubs, like SADD members, encourage students reaching out to other students to reduce highway deaths.

As is the case with many widespread, visible prevention efforts, little measurable data can be summoned to show whether or not SADD is effective in reducing drinking and driving among youth. In 1995, the Preusser Research Group, with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, performed an evaluation of SADD's effectiveness and concluded that students attending a SADD school were exposed to substantially more activities and information about the risks of underage drinking and drinking and driving. The survey also found that students at SADD schools were more likely to hold positive attitudes against drinking and driving.

(See also: Accidents and Injuries from Alcohol ; Dramshop Liability Laws ; Drunk Driving ; Mothers Against Drunk Driving ; Prevention Movement )


Klitzner, M., et al. (1994). A quasi-experimental evaluation of Students Against Driving Drunk. American Journal of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 20, 57-74.

Mann, P. (1993). Arrive alive: How to keep drunk and pot-high drivers off the highway. New York: Woodmere Press.

Michael Klitzner

Revised by Patricia Ohlenroth

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Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD)

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