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  Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) began with the admirable goal of reducing drunk-driving traffic fatalities by educating the nation about the devastation caused by drunk drivers. For the first 15 years, this strategy paid off: MADDís public relations campaigns played a key role in changing the nationís attitude about drunk driving, resulting in a huge drop-off in drunk driving deaths. MADD was so successful that it reached its goal for 2000 (to reduce alcohol-related deaths by 20%) in 1997.

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The unintended consequence, of course, is that MADD began to outgrow its mission. MADDís success changed it into a huge, $46 million organization, but after a certain point its public relations and education campaigns had changed societyís view of drunk driving, reducing the problem to what then-MADD president Katherine Prescott called "a hard core of alcoholics who do not respond to public appeal." In MADDís own opinion, these are people who are not swayed by red ribbon campaigns and slogans.

At this point, MADDís management shifted goals. It decided against a change in tactics to go after this remaining "hard core of alcoholics"; instead it changed the definition of the problem so that it once again included the reasonable adults who respond to MADDís PR campaigns. MADD did so by shifting its rhetoric from "Donít Drive Drunk" to "Donít Drink and Drive" and inventing the concept of the "habitual drinking driver problem," (people who often have drinks with dinner but are not drunk).

Unfortunately, this new "mission" has nothing to do with drunk driving; it is a manifestation of MADDís deep-seated belief that any and all drinking before driving should be prohibited -- regardless of whether itís done responsibly and legally. Instead of focusing on repeat offenders and those who are too drunk to drive, the twenty-first-century MADD endorses higher beverage taxes, needlessly low drunk driving arrest thresholds, and roadblocks designed to frighten people out of social drinking. These tactics have failed to reduce drunk driving deaths, since they target social drinkers, not product abusers.

In March 2004, MADD expanded its attack on responsible adults by calling for a "mandatory provision in every separation agreement and divorce decree that prohibits either parent from drinking and driving Ö with minor children in the vehicle." Violating this provision, it argues, should result in penalties such as license suspension, jail, or even the "termination of parental rights."

Once again, MADD is not talking about drunk driving, but drinking and driving -- meaning that if a divorced mother safely drives her children home after having a glass of wine with dinner at a restaurant, MADD supports sanctions that include losing custody of her children.

MADD founder Candy Lightner has broken ties with the group. In 2002, she told the Washington Times, "[MADD] has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned Ö I didnít start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving."

MADD has managed to artificially enlarge the societal problem of drunk driving by continuously expanding the parameters of the "drinking driving problem." Even though the real drunk driving problem has been reduced to a relatively small group of incorrigible "hard-core" offenders, MADD continues to intensify its focus on responsible adults.

The reason is simple: MADD has essentially become a public relations organization, and PR campaigns only work on responsible adults; product abusers are not affected by slogans and red ribbon campaigns. So MADD ignores the truly drunk drivers who cause an overwhelming majority of the deaths, and instead goes after social drinkers with massive PR scare campaigns.

This persecution of social drinkers is fueled not only by MADDís organizational imperative, but also by its fanatical conviction that no one should be allowed to drink anything before driving. Behind its support for ever-lower drunk driving arrest thresholds, higher taxes, and anti-alcohol media campaigns lies a "zero tolerance" fervor.

The organization fuels a belief that adultsí legal freedom to drink responsibly before driving should be sacrificed if there is even the most remote possibility that it might stop one drunk driver. This extreme sentiment was likely behind MADDís current campaign to legally compel divorced and separated parents to refrain from drinking anything before driving their children -- or face loss of custody, jail time, or even the termination of parental visiting rights.

This new campaign also helps MADD by justifying its perpetual fundraising effort -- a huge endeavor, since its $46 million bureaucracy spends over $12 million in salaries, pensions and benefits alone each year.

To keep the money rolling in, MADD must continue and expand its nationwide guilt trip by admonishing adults not to drink anything before driving, lest they become the ultimate pariah, a "drinking driver." This serves the dual purpose of creating a huge "drinking driver problem" (showing the need for MADD), and setting up a group of impressionable, responsible adults who will respond to MADDís PR campaigns by abstaining from drinking altogether (proving MADDís worth). The fact that MADDís campaigns largely ignore the real drunk drivers is beside the point.

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