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Mothers Against Drunk Driving (Madd) Business Information, Profile, and History

alcohol drinking age lightner

511 East John Carpenter Freeway
Suite 700
Irving, Texas 75062-8187
U.S.A.

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The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime, and prevent underage drinking.

History of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (Madd)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been called America's most-liked charity, though its familiar acronym suggests the rage that prompted its formation in 1980. The group's traditional mission has been to fight what MADD national president Millie Webb has called "the most frequently committed violent crime in the nation"--drunk driving injuries and deaths. In its first two decades, the organization has been credited with fostering a profound reduction in the number of alcohol-related fatalities. Along the way, it changed an entire society's attitude towards driving under the influence (DUI) and introduced terms like "designated driver" into the lexicon. MADD continues to work to lower number of drunk driving deaths, and it has expanded its mission to include prevention of underage drinking.

Origins

In May 1980, 13-year-old Cari Lightner was killed by a drunk driver as she walked on the sidewalk in her suburban Sacramento neighborhood. The driver, Clarence William Busch, did not stop, but when he was apprehended he was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.20 percent--and previous drunk-driving convictions. He was, in fact, out on bail for a similar hit-and-run.

Cari Lightner left behind two sisters, one of them her twin. The Lightners' story was horrifying but not unique--there were 27,000 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States that year, 2,500 of them in California. However, in this case, the girl's mother, Candace Lightner, a real estate agent, used her grief to fuel a new grassroots organization dedicated to reshaping the public's perception of drunk driving.

The name of the new group and the date of incorporation were borrowed from family members. Her sister suggested calling the group Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, or MADD. The Guardian of Manchester, England, among others, noted the gender implications. The feminine aspect of the title was an entirely accurate statement of feminine anger against the chiefly male perpetrators, who included the lawyers and judges that coddled this behavior. MADD's mission was to convince society that driving under the influence was a serious crime, and the devastating results of the decision to drive under the influence were not "accidents."

As for the date of incorporation, September 5, 1980--that would have been Cari Lightner's 14th birthday. The Guardian also noted the political implications of the word "Mother"--as American as apple pie. Still, the first couple of months were slow going. Later that fall, Lightner persuaded California governor Jerry Brown to set up a task force. Two years later, a presidential commission was formed which recommended raising the minimum drinking age to 21 and revoking the license of drunk drivers.

MADD was not the first organization of its kind in the United States--RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers) had been formed in 1978--but it soon proved to be the most influential. It had chapters in 31 states by 1982. MADD's members, typically parents who had lost children to drunk driving accidents, testified before lawmakers. MADD's pitch focused on these innocent children, and the media was sympathetic. In fact, Lightner's own story was told in a made-for-TV movie on NBC in 1983. The same year, MADD forged an alliance with Anheuser-Busch to promote the then-novel concept of responsible drinking. The group was clearly making big waves in the beverage industry.

Drinking Age Raised to 21 in 1984

MADD relocated its national headquarters to a suburb of Dallas, Texas, in 1983. An important name change took place in 1984, when the group began calling itself Mothers Against Drunk Driving. That year, the group saw passage of a new federal law that raised the drinking age to 21.

In 1985, Lon G. von Hurwitz produced the public-service video "Don't Drive Drunk" starring Stevie Wonder. A follow-up featured Aretha Franklin. Hurwitz would become the organization's chairman in 1993. Also in 1985, founder Candace Lightner and the organization she founded parted ways due to disagreements with the MADD board.

By this time, MADD had 650,000 members in 47 states. About the same time as the U.S. organization was gathering steam, a number of anti-drunk driving groups were springing up in Canada, including PRIDE (People to Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) in Ontario, PAID in Alberta, and CAID in Manitoba. PRIDE became MADD Canada in 1990.

Fighting for 0.08 in the 1990s

Revenues, largely achieved through telemarketing, were about $50 million in 1990. The group set up a 900 number to support its "Strike Against Drunk Driving" program for league bowlers. Probably the most visible effort was the Red Ribbon campaign, which asked motorists to show support for responsible drinking behavior during the holidays by tying ribbons to their car antennas.

In the early 1990s, MADD began a long campaign to lower the nation's blood alcohol level (BAC) from 0.10 to 0.08, or 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood. This was the difference between four or five drinks in an hour for the average-sized person, according to a MADD spokesman.

By 1992, 41 states and the District of Columbia had adopted a BAC of 0.10 as the legal measure of intoxication. Five states had already adopted the lower 0.08 limit; MADD lobbyists had persuaded Congress to link federal highway grants to states' acceptance of the lower limit.

The lower limit met with resistance from the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which quoted statistics from Maine that suggested most drunk driving deaths occurred above the 0.10 standard and that only a tiny fraction of heavy drinkers on the road were arrested, reported Restaurant Hospitality. Naturally, the restaurant industry worried about the implications of a lower BAC for highly profitable wine sales.

MADD president Milo Kirk countered that the state of California had reduced alcohol-related deaths 15 percent in one year after going to a 0.08 BAC and implementing a few other measures such as high publicity and strict enforcement.

In 1993, MADD financed an infomercial that brought together some of Hollywood's top talents in a retrospective chronicling the depiction of drunk driving in film. In It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart's drunken character wrecked into a tree without censure. By the early 1990s, attitudes had matured; designated drivers were appearing in movies, and the MADD tagline "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" was uttered in the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. The well-known film critic team Siskel & Ebert hosted the program.

In early 1994, MADD founder Candace Lightner began working for the Berman & Co. lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the American Beverage Institute. Her mission: persuading states not to lower their legal drunk driving standard to 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content. Both Lightner and MADD's then-president Beckie Brown downplayed the apparent conflict of interest, saying they merely disagreed on the 0.08 issue. Others, however, saw her as a traitor to the cause.

By the mid-1990s, MADD was considered America's most-loved charity by one survey. Alcohol-related traffic deaths had fallen 40 percent in the 15 years since MADD was founded. However, there was trouble in Texas, as local chapters battled the national office over the way money was raised and spent. The national office lost $1 million on a botched grocery store coupon book giveaway in 1991, reported the Wall Street Journal. The Las Vegas chapter disbanded to form a rival group, Stop DUI, after a disastrous $50,000 telemarketing campaign that netted the unit just one dollar and some change.

Nationwide revenues fell 22 percent, to $40 million, in fiscal 1993, leading to a desperate shortfall for the head office. A telemarketing blitz raised revenues to $47.7 million in fiscal 1994, but the $1 million deficit nearly tripled. MADD's national office responded by cutting costs and also garnishing $1.3 million in future telemarketing earnings from several states. The Michigan office filed a lawsuit to prevent this in February 1995.

Taking On Teens in 1996

In 1996, MADD claimed 3.2 million members and 500 chapters. Towards the end of the year, it reported a depressing statistic: after ten years of decreases, the number of alcohol-related highway deaths in the United States rose by 4 percent in 1995, to 17,274.

MADD shifted its focus to fighting underage drinking. The group produced a $250,000 video and slide show called "Take the Lead" that it presented in high schools. U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co.'s USF&G Foundation footed the bill for the production.

MADD and other child advocates pressured Anheuser-Busch to take its talking frog commercials off the air, claiming they appealed to children. The organization had launched its first major attack on alcohol advertising three years earlier, when national president Becky Brown warned industry advertisers against using "celebrities, music stars, athletes, animals, cartoon characters, or other language or images that have special appeal to youth."

Tie maker Stonehenge Limited teamed with MADD in 1997 to produce a range of neckties intended to serve as alcohol awareness reminders. They were decorated with reproductions of the molecular structures of various cocktails as seen under a microscope.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA), MADD's longtime lobbying opponent, was its partner in a 1997 designated driver effort. Another sponsor of the campaign was AAMCO Transmissions, which placed promotions inside restaurants using such taglines as "Designate a Driver, Not a Beneficiary." The NRA continued to oppose MADD's efforts to lower the legal intoxication limit to 0.08 percent, however.

The Labor Day weekend was traditionally the most deadly time of year relating to drunk driving incidents in the United States. During this period in 1997, 250 people were killed by drunk drivers; these were mourned in national advertising that also noted a high-profile loss overseas: the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, whose driver had been profoundly intoxicated.

20 in 2000

At the time of MADD's 20th anniversary in 2000, alcohol-related traffic fatalities had dropped 40 percent in two decades. That was still 16,000 too many needless deaths for the group, which set a goal of lowering the number to 11,000 by 2005. MADD won a major victory when, late in 2000, the Clinton administration passed a law tying federal highway funds to states' adoption of the 0.08 blood alcohol content standard. States with the toughest drunk driving laws were beginning to treat drunk driving accidents as murder--even first-degree murder, in one North Carolina case.

In 2001, MADD found new support for its decade-long fight to persuade states to lower the drunk driving standard to 0.08 blood alcohol content. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) pledged its support, despite objections from operators who believed the measure would criminalize more of their patrons without affecting the number of problem drinkers. At the time, 19 states were using the 0.08 standard.

MADD rolled out its "Pasa Las Llaves" ("Pass the Keys") program in California in late 2001 to promote responsible driving concepts among Latinos, a group with a disproportionate rate of alcohol consumption. Around the same time, the organization was signing up MADD chapters, known as UMADD, at universities around the country. Underage drinking and binge drinking were problems on campus. Another group, Students Against Driving Drunk (SADD), was not affiliated with MADD.

The MADD logo was updated for the first time in August 2002. The words "Mothers Against Drunk Driving" were dropped from the logo due to name recognition for the MADD acronym, which a Gallup survey pegged at 97 percent.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1980: Candy Lightner starts MADD after her daughter is killed in a motor vehicle accident involving a drunk driver.
  • 1983: MADD relocates its headquarters to Texas.
  • 1984: The legal drinking age is raised to 21 in the United States.
  • 1985: Lightner leaves MADD.
  • 1996: MADD expands its mission to take on underage drinking.
  • 2000: A blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08 percent is adopted as the federal drunk driving standard.
  • 2002: MADD updates its logo.
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