Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) can reasonably take the credit for halving the number of people killed by drunk driving each year from 21,000 in 1980 to about 11,000 in 2009.
To appreciate how big an accomplishment that is, it?s helpful to remember that when MADD was founded in 1980, ?it was legal to get behind the wheel and drink a beer in most states,? and drunk drivers ?rarely received more than a fine,? according to The Dallas Morning News. (If that doesn?t give hope to those of you seeking to change public attitudes about the use of dangerous substances, I don?t know what will.)
MADD celebrated its 30th anniversary in a big way: it launched an effort that will — it hopes — virtually eliminate drunk driving. First, it wants Congress to amend the Federal Highway Reauthorization Bill to require that people convicted of drunk driving must have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicles. This is already law in 12 states.
Second, MADD wants Congress to authorize $60 million over five years to pay for the development of a device that would lock the ignition for drivers with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety — yes, that spells DADSS ? might save 8,000 lives every year, once the technology is perfected.
The device is expected to take several years to finish, and might use infrared light sensors or scan driver?s fingers to assess the driver?s sobriety.
The Alcohol Beverage Institute (ABI), which critiqued MADD?s use of telemarketers to raise funds last year, objected to its plan to put DADSS in all cars. “They are no longer a mainstream organization,” said the Institute?s managing director, Sarah Longwell. “Many of their policies are extremely fringe at this point.”
It might seem ludicrous to paint an organization founded by a mother whose 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver as ?extremely fringe,? but the Institute sounded a bit desperate: “When they talk about alcohol sensing technologies, ultimately what it does, it eliminates people’s ability to drink anything before driving,” Longwell said. “It’s not about drunk driving anymore, it’s about trying to demonize any drinking prior to driving.”
MADD said it wasn?t trying to outlaw drinking — just drunk driving. And why exactly is that a bad thing?
One can reasonably debate whether it?s a good idea to have taxpayers foot the bill to develop DADSS. And it?s possible that the American Beverage Institute was correct to criticize MADD?s fundraising practices — I certainly don?t know enough to say.
But given that 11,000 people a year still die in crashes related to drunk driving, and that alcohol clouds people?s judgment (which means most drivers underestimate how drunk they are before they get behind the wheel), maybe it?s time we retired the idea that it?s ever okay to drink and drive.
And call me crazy, but maybe we should be applauding MADD for trying, rather than spreading unfounded fears that no adult will ever be allowed to drink alcohol again.
We owe that much to the thousands of people who?ve died or been injured in drunk-driving accidents ? and to those who are still alive because of MADD?s work.