This fall Mothers Against Drunk Driving marks its 25th anniversary. The organization certainly has much to celebrate: Deaths from drunk driving are down more than 35 percent since the early 1980s. We no longer chuckle at the bumbling drunk who can barely get his key into the ignition — we scorn him. Hopefully, we arrest him, too.
Unfortunately, MADD has come to outlive and outgrow its original mission. By the mid-1990s, deaths from drunk driving began to level off, after 15 years of progress. The sensible conclusion to draw from this was that the occasional drunk driver had all but been eradicated. MADD’s successes had boiled the problem down to a small group of hard-core alcoholics.
It was at about this time that MADD began to move in a different direction, one not so much aimed at reducing drunk driving fatalities but at stripping DWI defendants of basic criminal rights. MADD also seemed to expand its mission to one of discouraging the consumption of alcohol in general — what critics call “neo-prohibition.”
Before you write excoriating emails, I am an Emergency Physician and I see the effects of drunk driving virtually every shift, sometimes several times per shift. I have previously denounced drunk drivers, and truly wish there were more prosecutions of the actually impaired driver. I’m also very aware of research that the drunk drivers I see are less likely to be prosecuted.
And, MADD is off the rails. Their actions toward a new prohibition are both wrong-headed and counterproductive. Their initial goal, a change of laws and attitudes toward drunk drivers, is done. They must stop before they damage their initial cause, and trivialize their initial gains.