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The Origin Story And Impact Of Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was established in 1980 by Candace Lightner after her daughter passed after being struck by an inebriated driver. Lightner's grief and determination was the inspiration behind many existing regulations and policies regarding driving under the influence. MADD was instrumental in establishing the .08 minimum blood alcohol level while operating a vehicle. The organization also lobbied to raise the minimum drinking age in the United States to 21. 

Before MADD's efforts, drivers didn't generally receive harsh punishments. Such a reality is difficult to imagine today - when politicians or celebrities receive a citation for driving under the influence, the news is highly controversial, and the court of public opinion is unmerciful. This shift in the public's perception of intoxicated driving is mostly because of MADD's efforts. The group advocated for minimum sentencing guidelines and engaged in widespread education about the dangers of driving under the influence. As a result, alcohol-related traffic fatalities are down 55% since 1980. MADD has had a lasting impact on traffic safety and has undoubtedly helped to save countless lives. 

  • 1983: The TV Movie ‘The Candy Lightner Story’ Raised MADD’s Profile

    NBC aired Mothers Against Drunk Driving: The Candy Lightner Story in 1983, which brought public attention to Cari's incident and Candace's action in the face of grief. The dramatized version of the Lightners' story starred Mariette Hartley as Candace.

    The film highlighted MADD's beginnings as well as the policy changes enacted by the organization. The movie weaved in important facts, including the statistic that, at the time, one person was felled in a drunk driving accident every 21 minutes.

  • 1984: MADD Helped Enact The National Minimum Drinking Age Act

    On July 17, 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a minimum drinking age of 21. The legislation reduced federal highway grants to any state that refused to enforce the new federal minimum. By 1985, all 50 states had strengthened intoxicated driving regulations.

    In 1987, the Supreme Court upheld the federal drinking minimum as constitutional, and by the following year, all states had passed laws banning drinking under 21 years of age.

  • 1984: The Group Changed Its Name to Mothers Against Drunk Driving

    In 1984, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers changed its name to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The group stated the shift intended to make clear the organization's position against the action of drunk driving, not the person who does it. 

    MADD also adopted a new mission statement in 1985, which articulated the purpose of MADD is to "mobilized victims and their allies to establish the public conviction that impaired driving is unacceptable and criminal, to promote corresponding public policies, programs, and personal responsibility."

  • Mid-1980s: MADD Helped Shift Use Of The Word ‘Accident’ To ‘Crash’

    In the mid-1980s, MADD made the conscious decision to use the word "crash" instead of "accident" referring to drunk driving incidents. The group reasoned driving under the influence is a choice, and the perpetrator should be held responsible for their actions.

    By 1997, the Department of Transportation followed suit and removed the word "accident" from all literature regarding drunk driving.