On May 3, 1980, 13-year-old Cari Lightner was killed by a drunken hit-and-run driver at Sunset and New York Avenues in Fair Oaks, California. The 46-year-old driver, who had recently been arrested for another Driving Under the Influence (DUI) hit-and-run, left the mortally-wounded little girl’s body at the scene.
A few months later, on September 5, 1980, Candace Lightner, Cari’s mother, founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a 501c3, nonprofit organization that seeks to stop drunk driving, support those affected by drunk driving, prevent underage drinking, and strive for stricter impaired driving policy, whether that impairment is caused by alcohol or any other drug. The organization, which now has at least one office in every state in the US and at least one in every province of Canada, is based in Irving, Texas. These offices offer victim services and many resources involving alcohol safety.
MADD became heavily involved in lobbying to reduce the legal limit for blood alcohol. Prior to MADD’s influence, drunk-driving laws addressed the danger by making it a criminal offense to drive a vehicle while impaired, that is, while “under the influence of alcohol.” The amount of alcohol in the body was evidence of that impairment. The level specified at that time, commonly, 0.15%, was high enough to indicate drunkenness rather than impairment. In part due to MADD’s influence, all 50 states have now passed laws making it a criminal offense to drive with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08% or higher. In addition, MADD has supported interlock devices on cars that won’t start if the driver has more than .08 BAC. These are required in cases where the driver has previously been convicted of DUI.
Moreover, MADD has shown that drunk driving has been reduced by half since its founding. In the video below, Debbie Weir, Flower Mound resident and CEO of MADD since 2012, talks about the efforts of the organization to save thousands of lives each year by reducing the carnage on our roadways due to drunk drivers. On a personal note, I feel compelled to state that during my 20 years as a cop in NYC, I responded to countless gruesome death scenes on city streets and highways, caused by drunk driving. Some were so flagrant that the drivers couldn’t stand up straight or walk without stumbling.
Yet, they were reckless enough to get behind the wheel of a ton of machinery and race toward their destinations with reflexes severely diminished. I’ve had to break the sad news to the families of those victims and all I could offer them was the assurance that I had arrested the killers and the promise that I would do everything in my power to bring in a guilty verdict and a prison sentence. It was small comfort to those who had to face life without their loved ones. Every day, 28 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 53 minutes. Can you imagine how many more would be killed if not for organizations like MADD? For more info: www.madd.org
Bob Weir is a former NYPD officer, long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.