MADD has gone mad

Ted Hamilton

At one point in time Mothers Against Drunk Driving was an organization with good intentions. Candy Lightner started the non-profit group in 1980 after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Lightner later left the organization (or was fired, depending on whom you ask) when the organization became hijacked by neo-prohibitionists who consider drinking and driving the same thing as drunk driving.

This means if you have one beer over the course of an hour at a restaurant, MADD would like to see you in jail.

In recent years, Lightner has said the organization is “far more neo-prohibitionist” than she intended it to be, saying it was meant to “deal with drunk driving” and not alcohol in general. Everyone can agree that driving drunk is an incredibly stupid thing to do and people should be penalized for doing it. At the same time, having a beer or two in the course of an hour then driving home should not qualify as drunk driving.

If you need an example of how MADD has become increasingly more prohibitionist, look at a TV advertisement it aired stating: “If you think there’s a difference between heroin and alcohol, you’re dead wrong.”

Woah. I would think there is a slight difference between tying one on at a bar and shooting one up in a crack house.

The organization has successfully campaigned to lower the legal blood alcohol content from .10 percent to .08 percent, but that is not enough. According to MADD, the organization would like to see a legal blood alcohol content of .02 percent, which would be about the equivalent to using mouth wash before you get into a car.

The problem lies beneath the surface of MADD, and even the government – they are more concerned with blood alcohol content levels than they are with actually driving impaired. The risk begins when someone is driving impaired, not just because a minute level of alcohol is in his or her system.

In some areas, MADD gets a donation from every drunk driving arrest, earning the organization more money to fight drunk driving. But how much of this money goes to drunk driving prevention and education?

According to an investigative article by the Toronto Star on MADD Canada, only 19 cents of every dollar goes to charity. The remaining 81 cents is used to pay administrative fees and to further fundraising activities (i.e. telemarketers and door-to-door volunteers). According to the charity watchdog Web site give.org, MADD’s executive director makes more than $200,000.

That seems a bit excessive for being in charge of a nonprofit organization. Whatever happened to civic responsibility?

MADD also has a hotline you can call from your cell phone if you see a person who might be a drunk driving offender. Ironically, the New England Journal of Medicine found that driving on your cell phone causes as much impairment as someone with a .10 percent blood alcohol content.

This is where the organization has lost its mission – driving impaired is not the issue anymore, it is about if you have had a drink or not.

The scariest thing MADD has pressured the government to do is create sobriety check points. The police can randomly set up road blocks and breathalyze every person driving on the road even if they are not swerving or giving any reason to be pulled over. In fact, if someone lives in California, the police can enter your house without a warrant if they suspect a drunk driver is hiding in the house.

MADD was once an organization that was important and had a good message. Now it has left its drunk driving stance behind for a neo-prohibitionist stance that turns the constitution on its head.

Ted Hamilton is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]