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In 1980, drunk driving deaths had reached an unconscionable high—27,000 people died in DUI-related crashes, with 2,500 occurring in California alone. Drunk driving had become an epidemic, and it was time to look for a cure.
How One Mother Began a Revolution Against Drunk Driving
On May 3, 1980, 13-year-old Cari Lightner of Fair Oaks, California, was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Four days later, Lightner’s mother Candy started Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Mrs. Lightner learned that drunk driving had killed 250,000 people over the prior decade, and that it was the No. 1 killer of Americans ages 15-24. She also discovered that due to lenient laws, the driver who killed her daughter would likely be back behind the wheel. Lightner then began grassroots efforts to address what she referred to as “the only socially acceptable form of homicide.”
MADD had a victory out of the gate when Clarence Busch, the driver who fatally struck Lightner’s daughter, was convicted of vehicular homicide. He served 21 months in jail. Next, Lightner lobbied California governor Jerry Brown to institute a task force for investigating drunk driving. Brown agreed and made Lightner the first member of the task force. The following year, California imposed mandatory fines for drunk drivers and mandatory imprisonment for repeat offenders.
Lightner then joined the National Commission on Drunk Driving. In 1984, she helped get a law passed that encouraged states to raise the drinking age to 21. By 1985, all 50 states had changed the drinking age.
Lightner left MADD in 1985. After she left, the organization fought to lower the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers from 0.1% to 0.08%.
Overall, MADD helped change the public’s perception of drunk driving. People were forced to see the faces of those affected by drunk driving and hear their stories. This resulted in a huge shift in public opinion on driving under the influence. By 1997, alcohol-related deaths had decreased by 20%, three years before MADD’s goal year of 2000. To date, drunk driving deaths have been cut in half since MADD’s founding in 1980.
The Teen Drinking and Driving Problem
According to MADD, one in five teens participates in binge drinking. However, only one in 100 parents thinks their child binge drinks. This discrepancy can lead parents to mistakenly think they don’t need to talk to their kids about drinking and driving.
The reality is that teen alcohol use kills roughly 6,000 people a year. And although drivers under age 21 make up only 10% of licensed drivers, they are responsible for 17% of fatal crashes involving alcohol. So even if parents don’t think their child is among the one in five, it is still every parent’s responsibility to discuss the consequences of driving under the influence with their teens.
On April 21, MADD presented the campaign PowerTalk21, the “national day for parents to begin intentional, ongoing, and possibly lifesaving conversations about alcohol with their kids.” The campaign encourages parents to discuss alcohol with their teens and share strategies for preventing underage drinking.
The Problem of Repeat DUI Offenders
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a drunk driver has driven drunk roughly 80 times before his first arrest. What’s more, about one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of DUI are repeat offenders.
Having a prior DUI offense also makes drivers more likely to be involved in a fatal auto accident. In fact, a driver with one prior DUI is about 1.4 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a first time offender. This risk increases with every subsequent DUI conviction.
Why are Repeat Offenders Getting Back Behind the Wheel?
With recidivism being such a deadly trend when it comes to drunk driving, why are so many repeat drunk drivers allowed back behind the wheel? In 2014, more than 1.12 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence. However, only 17% of impaired drivers who are injured in crashes are actually convicted of a crime. Another 11% are charged and not convicted, and 72% are never even charged.
For drivers who are arrested for DUI, license suspension is a common punishment. The problem is that 50-75% of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license, according to MADD.
Instead of trusting convicted DUI offenders not to get back behind the wheel while intoxicated, MADD advocates for ignition interlock devices to be installed in the vehicles of drunk drivers. Compared to license suspension alone, ignition interlocks reduce repeat DUI offenses by 67% while the devices is installed, and 39% after the device is removed.
Despite Efforts, Drunk Driving Deaths are Once Again Rising
Although drunk driving deaths decreased over the past three decades, DUI fatalities jumped sharply in 2015. That year, 10,265 people lost their lives in alcohol-impaired crashes, compared to 9,967 people in 2014. This is the largest increase in drunk driving deaths in 50 years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is still trying to determine why drunk driving deaths are suddenly on the rise again.
“We can’t let our guard down when it comes to drunk driving. While we’ve certainly made progress over the past three decades, we must continue to fight against the drunk driving epidemic,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.
Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the California personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured in an auto accident and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.
DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.