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Victim advocacy: How moms got mad against drunk driving

This brief history of MADD explains how the group got its start and where it’s at today


The toll taken by a drunk driver can be devastating. A driver under the influence is a murderer looking for a victim. No one knows that pain better than those who have lost a loved one to the actions of a drunk driver. Drunk drivers kill indiscriminately, taking children, adults, entire families in a moment yet often walking away unscathed and nearly untouched by the criminal justice system. The war against drunk driving and the fight for stronger legislation against those who choose to place the lives of all those in their path in danger is still being waged. A major force in that war is MADD.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded on September 5, 1980, a date which would have marked the 14th birthday of Cari Lightner had it not been for the actions of a drunk driver. On May 3rd, 1980 the lives of Cari’s mother, Candice Lightner, and her family were torn apart. That afternoon Cari and a friend were walking their bikes in the bike lane on their way to a carnival when a 47-year-old man on a 3-day bender with three prior DUI convictions ran Cari down, killing her.

Her body was so badly mangled that, despite her family’s request to donate her organs, her organs were too badly damaged for transplant. Later Candice would learn from the police that she would be lucky if her daughter’s killer received prison time, let alone saw the inside of a jail. That revelation set in motion the movement against drunk driving with Candice at the forefront.

Candy Lightner, left, founder and president of (MADD) Mother Against Drunk Drivers, faces reporters, on June 14, 1983, at Capitol Hill, Washington. Lightner is joined by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole. The three favor a national drinking age of 21. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Candy Lightner, left, founder and president of (MADD) Mother Against Drunk Drivers, faces reporters, on June 14, 1983, at Capitol Hill, Washington. Lightner is joined by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole. The three favor a national drinking age of 21. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A few months later, Candice met with Cindi Lamb, the mother of Laura Lamb, a vivacious infant who had become the nation’s first quadriplegic infant after a drunk driver collided head on with the car her mother was driving. Sadly Laura wouldn’t live to see her seventh birthday or the national reforms brought by the two determined mothers. In October of 1980 the two mothers delivered a speech on Capitol Hill and thus began the MADD movement.

MADD set about putting an end to drunk driving and supporting the victims of a crime which, until the organization’s involvement, had largely gone under punished. The mission statement of MADD, as published on their website, is:

The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes and prevent underage drinking.

While their mission statement has changed over the years to include drugged driving and the prevention of underage drinking, MADD has continuously been an active force in driving legislative reform, public awareness and victim support in the area of drunk driving.

Since their first national press conference in 1980, MADD has achieved several milestones. Only two years after its inception, more than 100 MADD chapters had formed nationwide, a presidential commission on drunk driving had been formed and federal funding was provided to states to combat drunk driving.

By 1983, 129 new anti-drunk driving laws had been passed and, in 1984, the federal minimum drinking age was set to 21. In 1986, victim assistance institutes were established and, in 1988, the Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act was signed which included amendments extending crime victim compensation rights to victims of DUI.

MADD’s achievements have continued over the years as the organization has grown dramatically including over 600 chapters and 2 million members. The dramatic impact MADD has had on state and federal legislation, social values, and victims’ rights is a testament to what a determined mother can achieve.

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