Priority Traffic Safety Laws

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Priority Traffic Safety Laws

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)


By: MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)

Date: 2003

Source: Mothers Against Drunk Driving. MADD TEA-21 Reauthorization Brochure. Washington, D.C.: MADD, 2003.

About the Author: In 1980, Candace Lightner's thirteen-year-old daughter Cari was walking on a neighborhood street when she was killed in a hit-and-run collision by a person who was driving while intoxicated. The driver of the vehicle had four previous convictions for driving while intoxicated (DWI), and was out on bail for an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident that had taken place two days previously. Despite this dangerous history, he still had a valid California driver's license (the state in which the fatality occurred). Although he was convicted in Cari Lightner's death, he received only a two-year sentence, which was served outside of a prison setting. This was not an unusual occurrence at the time, as DWI convictions were not treated as serious offenses, even when they resulted in fatalities. Candace Lightner was deeply distraught about the relative lack of legal repercussions for the driver who was responsible for her daughter's death. She decided to seek positive changes in the way drunk driving was viewed by the media and by the criminal justice system. Her efforts led to the creation of the organization originally called Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). Her initial goals were to raise public consciousness concerning the potential consequences of driving while intoxicated, to raise awareness of the frequency with which that occurred, and to significantly modify the existing laws concerning driving while intoxicated.


In 1979, Cindi Lamb and her five-month-old daughter Laura were involved in a motor vehicle accident in Maryland, caused by an intoxicated driver who hit their vehicle head on while traveling at an excessive speed (reported at more than 100 miles per hour). Laura Lamb suffered a spinal injury that left her a paralyzed quadriplegic. Then, in 1980, Candace Lightner's daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Lightner and Lamb began to work together, and MADD began to grow. Initially, most chapters were formed by victims of DWIs and their families. A television movie about Candace Lightner's life airing in 1983 focused national attention on MADD, dramatically accelerating the growth of the organization. By the early 1990s, MADD reported having more than 400 chapters in thirty-two states in America, as well as branches in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

By raising public awareness of the relationship between driving while intoxicated, MADD aims to reduce traffic fatalities through several means: increasing penalties and other consequences for DWI; decreasing public complacency about the magnitude of the problem of DWI in America; giving an authentic face to the consequences of driving while intoxicated, by their quite visible and outspoken presence as victims and family members of those affected by drivers who were intoxicated; providing a mechanism for the creation of educational programs about the dangers of DWI aimed at youth; and decreasing public tolerance regarding drinking and driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was an early ally for MADD, and awarded them a development grant.

MADD's success was unprecedented. Drunk driving deaths declined steadily and dramatically, so much so that a twenty-year goal of reducing alcohol-related fatalities by one fifth (20 percent) was achieved three years early.

There is an important distinction to be made between alcohol-related accidents, and a drunk driving accident or DWI accident (also called DUI, or driving while under the influence). An alcohol-related accident means that a person who is involved in the crash, whether driver or passenger, has ingested an alcoholic beverage prior to the collision, but does not have a blood alcohol level at or above the legal limit (the national standard for intoxication is a blood alcohol content or BAC of 0.08 mg/ml.). In a DWI, the driver of one or more of the vehicles (typically the one responsible for causing the collision) has a blood alcohol content of at least 0.08 mg/ml.

MADD also campaigned for extending transportation laws known as the TEA-21 (Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century), which provided for increased highway safety measures and enforcement of driving while intoxicated laws. The following brochure calls for extended TEA-21 measures, and increased awareness of highway safety.



See primary source image.


The Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-first Century (TEA-21) expired on September 30, 2003, but was extended several times. MADD continued its campaign for further extensions of the law, and advocated for increased funding for education and DWI prevention measures in future versions of transportation acts. On August 10, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act into law, which extends most of the TEA-21 framework until 2009.

In 1984, MADD's name was changed from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. One reason for the name change was as a means of drawing greater attention to the concept of criminality inherent in the act of driving while intoxicated. It has always made victim advocacy a central goal, and has been instrumental in giving those whose lives were affected by DWI a public voice and a comprehensive support system. MADD has created a wraparound network of victim support services ranging from "warm lines" offering telephone support by trained staff; to public education and information brochures, campaigns, and curricula; to local advocate offices with staff that can provide in-person support to those victims engaged in the legal justice process; to magazine and Web sites for victims and concerned others.

Almost from the start, MADD focused considerable educational programming and media attention on the seriousness of underage drinking, and was instrumental in raising the federal standard for legal drinking age to twenty-one. It has had many strong and successful campaigns aimed at the prevention of underage drinking.

Among its many assets in MADD's high-visibility and recognizability campaigns, bumper stickers and MADD-emblazoned red ribbons on motor vehicles serve as potent reminders of the potential devastation caused by driving while intoxicated. In fact, the red ribbon, emblematic of MADD's Tie One On For Safety has been in use since 1986. The road sign consisting of a key across a martini glass inside the universal symbol for "No" or "Stop" has become synonymous with the mission of MADD and is recognized virtually worldwide.

MADD has had an enormous impact on legislation concerning drinking and driving, at the local and state as well as at the federal levels. By raising the minimum legal drinking age to twenty-one across the United States, many thousands of lives have been saved. Adjudicating the maximum blood level content for legal definition of intoxication at 0.08 has saved at least as many lives. MADD's campaigns against underage drinking, coupled with their promotion of the designated driver concept for those of legal drinking age, has helped to create a nationwide climate of awareness of the devastating potential of drinking alcohol and driving. In addition, MADD supports a nationwide prohibition of open containers in vehicles, creation and enforcement of nationwide standards governing the oversight of what they term "higher risk drivers": those who have multiple DWI arrests, those who drive on suspended or revoked licenses resulting from DWIs, and those with very high BAC at time of arrest (defined as BAC of 0.15 or greater). They also endorse strict federal standards mandating seat belt and child safety restraint system usage in all motor vehicles.

Based on reports published by MADD, some 300,000 lives have been saved since they began their work more than a quarter of a century ago. They state that although alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents resulting in fatalities have declined more than 40 percent during their first twenty-five years of operation, between 15,000 and 20,000 people are still killed in motor vehicle accidents in which alcohol is a causative factor. MADD's membership, and its management have become increasingly diverse as it has grown. In 2005, MADD's new national president took office: for the first time, the organization is being led by a person of color, who also happens to be male. Glynn Birch's twenty-one month old son was killed by a drunk driver in 1988; his attorney encouraged him to enlist MADD's assistance in writing a victim impact statement that was pivotal in obtaining the maximum allowable prison sentence for the driver of the vehicle. Birch was active at the local, state, and federal levels before his election to the MADD national presidency.



Usdan, S. L. "Drinking Locations Prior to Impaired Driving Among College Students: Implications for Prevention." Journal of American College Health. (Sep-Oct 2005): 54(2): 69-75.

Web sites

MADD online. "Have a Ball, Baby!: MADD Safe Party Guide." 〈,1056,4841,00.html〉 (accessed January 8, 2006).

MADD online. "Stats and Resources." 〈〉 (accessed January 8, 2006).