MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), a non-profit organization that aims to end drunk driving, support its victims, and prevent underage drinking, began on a beautiful day in 1980. Candace Lightner, the organization’s founder, lost her 13 year old daughter to a hit-and-run on May 3rd, 1980, and used her daughter’s death as the impetus to change how our nation dealt with drunk drivers. MADD began in Fair Oaks, California and is now based in Irving, Texas.
Candace Lightner’s daughter, Cari, was walking in the bicycle lane of the street when a man who was out on bail from another drunk driving incident ran her over. It was his fifth offense and when Candace learned that she would be lucky if he saw any jail time behind the death of her daughter, she decided to do everything she could to change laws pertaining to driving under the influence (DUI).
Cindi Lamb and her five and a half month old baby, Laura, were hit by a drunk driver on November 10, 1979. This accident made little Laura Lamb the country’s youngest quadriplegic and incited her parents to write letters to anyone and everyone who could influence drunk driving laws in our nation. Coincidentally, Cindi and Laura had also been hit by a drunk driver on his fifth offense and their letter-writing campaign caught the attention of the news media, eventually connecting them to Candace Lightner.
In October of 1980, MADD held its first national press conference in Washington, DC. With Candace representing the West coast and Cindi from Maryland, representing the East coast, MADD was primed to affect laws nationwide. Laura Lamb soon became a spokesperson for the organization, giving interviews for print and television. The little girl became the face of the reality of drunk driving, motivating the entire country to take the issue more seriously.
Much of the success of MADD has been due to tireless advocates and volunteers who work to drive the organization’s mission. MADD has a chapter in every state and these chapters have worked to get alcohol-related legislation passed. MADD was instrumental in getting the legal drinking age raised to 21 in every state. Beckie Brown, a woman who lost her 18 year old son to a 19 year old drunk driver in 1980, started the first MADD chapter in Florida and led the crusade to increase the legal drinking age in her state. From that success, the United States Congress passed legislation that stimulated other states to follow suite and by 1988, all states had raised the legal age for drinking.
From its beginnings, MADD was a force to be reckoned with. It began as a grassroots, citizen-led organization and has kept much of the vigor and focus that helped it gain national attention by the time it was a year old. By channeling their grief into working for change, people who have lost loved ones to drunk driving accidents have made the streets safer for all of us.