Get MADD Behind the Wheel 

click image PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR USER PERTHHDPRODUCTIONS
  • Photo courtesy of flickr user perthhdproductions

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, and about a quarter of fatally injured teen drivers had been drinking, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Drunk drivers in 2012 killed 228 people in Indiana, accounting for 29 percent of the state’s total traffic deaths, according to MADD. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research found that this was 10 percent more than 2011.

Advocates estimate that drunk driving costs the state's taxpayers about $1.1 billion per year.

“No one is immune to drunk driving—including celebrities and officials,” said Lael Hill, MADD’s Indiana representative. “We are concerned to hear about the arrest of officer Kevin Brown for allegedly driving drunk, and we cannot speak on the details of his case until it has been fully adjudicated…We know that just like everyone else, [law enforcement officials] are capable of making poor decisions."

Officer Brown was arrested on July 28, 2014 under drunk driving charges. This was the second time he had been arrested for this offense in the past year.

"It is our hope that a high-profile arrest, such as one of an IMPD officer, will serve as a reminder for the community to designate a driver in order to plan for a safe ride home,” Hill said.

MADD is all too familiar with rides that do not end safely. Many of its leaders and volunteers have lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident.

click to enlarge MADD Indiana Representative, Lael Hill, with a volunteer who lost her son to a drunk driving accident. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LAEL HILL.
  • MADD Indiana Representative, Lael Hill, with a volunteer who lost her son to a drunk driving accident.
  • Photo courtesy of Lael Hill.

“She was only fifteen years old,” recalled Jan Withers, whose daughter, Alisa, died in 1992 when a drunken friend crashed the car they were driving.

The boy, 18, had a reputation for liking to scare his passengers, swerving and speeding to get a reaction. This particular night, the speedometer read 120 miles per hours when he hit the guardrail on a country road, completely tearing off the right side of the car, and sending the car flipping into the woods. Another driver who happened on the scene found Alisa 20 feet from the car, lungs collapsed, but still alert.

She died at 4:30 a.m., after doctors worked through the night. She was a sophomore.

“I was devastated for a long time,” Withers said. “A friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you call MADD?’ I pictured MADD as advocates out there taking a stand, and I said, ‘I cant take a stand! I can’t even stand up.”

Withers, who is now MADD president, said she eventually did decide to call MADD. The advocate she spoke with is still one of her best friends today.

“She was like my lifeline. I really credit her for me being vertical,” Withers said. “She helped me through, and that’s what MADD does.”

Recently, MADD was involved in the passing of Indiana House Bill 1279, which will take effect January 1, 2015. One important provision of this bill is to increase the use of ignition interlock brakes for convicted drunk drivers. Interlocks are basically breathalyzers installed on a car’s dashboard. The driver must breathe into it, proving sobriety, to start the engine.

Studies from MADD show that first-time offenders have driven drunk an average of 80 times before they are convicted. According to the CDC, ignition interlocks have been shown to reduce repeated drunk driving by 67 percent compared to license suspension alone, as the majority of convicted drivers continue to drive under a suspended license.

In addition to its policy work, MADD offers those affected by intoxicated drivers everything from emotional support to case management and court advocacy, all completely free of charge. Last month, MADD added three new Indiana cases.

The organization considers impaired driving to be 100 percent preventable.

Seventy-five percent of youth responding to a MADD survey named their parents as the primary influence on their decisions about drinking. In response, MADD developed the Power of Parents program and established PowerTalk 21, which takes place on January 21 of each year, to encourage and educate parents on how to create ongoing conversations with their kids about the dangers of underage drinking.

MADD estimates that teen alcohol use kills about 4,700 people each year—more than all illegal drugs combined.

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Tara Longardner

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