Lightner, Candy (1946—)

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Lightner, Candy (1946—)

American activist who founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Born Candy Doddridge on May 30, 1946, in Pasadena, California; daughter of Dykes C. Doddridge (a career serviceman) and Katherine (Karrib) Doddridge (a civilian employee of the U.S. Air Force); attended American River College,1966; married Steve Lightner (U.S. Air Force officer, divorced); children: (twins) Cari Lightner (died 1980) and Serena Lightner ; Travis Lightner.

Candy Lightner formed Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) when her 13-year-old daughter, Cari, died after being hit by a car operated by a drunk driver on May 3, 1980. When a police officer told Lightner that the driver would probably never serve a jail sentence, she was enraged by judicial leniency toward drunk drivers. The driver who had killed her daughter had been arrested previously three times and convicted twice for driving while intoxicated, yet he retained a valid license. Lightner began to lobby for change in state and national legislatures, taking on the cause for victims of accidents caused by drunk driving. In a short time, local chapters of MADD sprang up throughout the United States, bringing the total number of members nationally to over 50,000 with an annual budget of $10 million. Largely as a result of Lightner's efforts, Congress passed a bill in June 1984 to establish a national legal drinking age of 21, overriding states' rights to establish a local drinking age.

Born on May 30, 1946, in Pasadena, California, Candy Lightner was the daughter of Dykes C. Doddridge and Katherine Karrib Doddridge . Both parents were employed by the U.S. Air Force, her father as a career serviceman, and her mother as an exchange system employee. Lightner's husband Steve Lightner was an officer in the Air Force. The marriage produced twin daughters and a son before ending in divorce. Prior to her career as an activist, Lightner attended American River College in Sacramento, California, and worked as a dental assistant from 1964 to 1972. From 1979 to 1980, she worked as a real estate agent in Fair Oaks, California. Before the death of her daughter, Lightner had been so completely apolitical she had not even registered to vote, but Cari's death in 1980 energized her into a life of social action. Using her own savings and insurance money from Cari's death, Lightner financed nearly 60% of MADD's expenses during its first year of operation.

From its unlikely origins in a cocktail lounge (Lightner was waiting for a table in a restaurant the night prior to her daughter's funeral when she announced the formation of the organization), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (called Mothers Against Drunk Drivers until 1984) grew rapidly into a national presence. With a staff of three volunteers, including Lightner and her father, the organization focused on lobbying for mandatory sentencing for those convicted of drunk driving and on providing counseling for their victims. It also pressed for national reforms. Although initially denied access to Governor Jerry Brown of California to discuss setting up a state commission to study the problem of drunk driving, Lightner was deluged with calls from across the nation following the press conference she gave to publicize her concerns. The first out-of-state chapter was formed in Maryland by Cindy Lamb , whose five-monthold daughter, Laura, became a quadriplegic after a drunk driver hit the car in which they were traveling. By the fall of 1980, Governor Brown met with Lightner and agreed to establish a California task force on drunk driving, with Lightner as its first member. A year later, 25 chapters of MADD existed in five states. By July 1983, the organization claimed 184 chapters in 39 states. Its rapid growth and outspoken activists caught the attention of state and national lawmakers, who could not ignore the high-profile mothers. State and national attention focused on issues relating to drunk driving, as Lightner pointed out that more persons were killed yearly in drunk-driving accidents than by handgun incidents.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan established a national commission on drunk driving, despite his own reluctance to interfere with states' rights. Lightner served on the 30-member commission, which coordinated efforts to draw public attention to the problem of drunk driving. While stricter laws against drunk-driving crimes passed in 27 states during 1982, Lightner began to focus her attention on alcohol-related accidents involving youth. An estimated 50,000 teenagers died in alcohol-related driving accidents between 1974 and 1984, making drunk driving the largest killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 during those years. With these statistics in mind, Lightner founded the first chapter of Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) in August 1980. Youth education became the focus for SADD and a main component of MADD's activities. An annual poster and essay contest was established to promote awareness of the problem of drunk driving.

In March 1983, NBC produced a television film about Lightner's life, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers: The Candy Lightner Story, starring Mariette Hartley and Paula Prentiss . Featured as the NBC "Movie of the Week," the story reached a large national audience, providing further publicity for Lightner's cause. After a relatively short period of lobbying, both houses of Congress passed bills establishing the legal drinking age as 21 (the Senate bill passed by a margin of 81 to 16). On July 17, 1984, President Reagan signed into law the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, thus overruling the many states which had lowered the legal drinking age in the 1970s. Within four years, Lightner had succeeded not only in raising the national consciousness about the dangers of drunk driving, but also in effecting state and national legislative changes; sentencing for drunk-driving offenses became mandatory throughout the country. The effects of Lightner's crusade against drunk driving reverberated throughout the legal system. In May 1984, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a California law declaring a .10 percent blood-alcohol content while driving a crime. A month later, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that if a guest left a social gathering intoxicated and caused an accident resulting in injury, the host could be sued. By the end of 1984, MADD boasted 325 chapters in 47 states. The national headquarters was relocated to Hurst, Texas.

By October 1985, however, public questions about finances and internal disputes within the organization resulted in administrative changes. At the request of her six-member executive committee, Lightner stepped down as head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, although she retained the position of consultant. Named one of the California Jaycees' Five Outstanding Californians in 1982 (the first woman so honored), Candy Lightner received numerous awards and commendations, including the President's Volunteer Action Award and the Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service (both 1983), an honorary doctorate from St. Francis College in Pennsylvania (1984), and the Human Dignity Award from the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation (1985).


Evory, Ann, and Peter M. Gareffa, eds. Contemporary Newsmakers. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1985.

Lolly Ockerstrom , freelance writer, Washington, D.C.