The depth of a mother’s love is perhaps never more apparent than in the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), nearly four decades ago in 1980. Candy Lightner was a mother and housewife when Cari, her 13-year-old daughter, was killed by a drunk driver who had multiple DUI offenses on his record. Although Candy had never considered herself an activist, today the number of fatalities due to alcohol impairment has decreased by about 50 percent, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving is considered one of the most successful grassroots efforts of our time.
MADD Changes the Way We Look at Drinking and Driving
The efforts of MADD changed the drunk driving landscape.The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities have significantly reduced , but perhaps just as importantly, MADD has changed the public’s perception of drinking and driving. Thirty or forty years ago, very little thought was given to driving after having a couple of drinks; jokes were made about drinking and driving, and many people even took pride in the fact they could successfully navigate their way home after having multiple alcoholic drinks. While drunk driving might have warranted a ticket, the penalties were relatively insignificant. In short, until drunk driving was made personal by Cari Lightner’s mother, few people gave it a second thought.
Over the years, Candy Lightner and MADD have been instrumental in passing stricter drunk driving laws, as well as getting the BAC level reduced to 0.08 percent in all states. The federal government raised the legal drinking age to 21 as a result of MADD’s efforts, and in 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the Uniform Drinking Age Act into law. Through the years, MADD, which is headquartered in Irving, Texas, has changed, although it boasts 600 local affiliates in 50 states, and a $40 million-dollar annual budget.
Beverage Industry Claims MADD is Pushing Prohibition
This is not to say that MADD does not have its detractors, with the beverage industry being one of the most vocal, claiming MADD has overstepped its boundaries in targeting social drinkers. The beverage industry even says MADD has embarked on a “holy war,” with leanings toward another prohibition era. Candy Lightner, who was a frustrated, grieving mother after the death of her daughter, found there were thousands of people just like her who had been forced to accept the death of a loved one from a drunk driving accident. In fact, Lightner said that “Drunk driving was the only socially acceptable form of homicide.”
Reducing the Number of Alcohol-Related Fatalities One Speech at a Time
As it turned out, this grief-stricken mother was a dynamic public speaker, who believed if she cried in public no one would take her story seriously. As Candy continued her mission, strangers began sending her money to increase MADD’s reach. Candy’s goals were to make the punishment for drunk driving swift and severe, make alcohol more difficult for those under the age of 21 to obtain, and to change the attitudes and behaviors regarding drunk driving in order to reduce the number of alcohol-related fatalities.
Lightner’s story became a made-for-tv movie in 1983; Candy’s reputation as an energetic leader—and someone who never hesitated to tell her story in front of members of Congress—led the MADD organization to grow by leaps and bounds, although some found her arrogant and even egocentric. Candy dismissed the criticism, claiming that being “nice and sweet” all the time would never take MADD in the direction it needed to go, nor would it get the necessary changes made in drunk driving laws.
Unfortunately, the activism associated with MADD took a toll on Lightner’s life. She later said that if she had it to do over again, she would not do it. Lightner claimed she was so busy building MADD that she never took the time to grieve for her daughter, and she failed to pay sufficient attention to her other two daughters as well. When asked about her efforts which helped save at least 110,000 lives, Lightner simply says the personal cost was too high. Despite this, the MADD organization made significant changes to the drunk driving landscape, saving thousands and thousands of lives in the process.