The Electric Commentary

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Mothers Against Drinking. Period.

Radley Balko celebrates M.A.D.D.'s 25th anniversary by pointing out that they've lost their focus. Instead of concentrating on drunk driving they've essentially become a prohibitionist organization, hopelessly entangled with the Federal government.

Even MADD's founder, Candy Lightner, has lamented that the organization has grown neo-prohibitionist in nature.

"[MADD has] become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned ...," Lightner is quoted as saying in an Aug. 6 story in the Washington Times. "I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving," she said.

Unfortunately, the tax-exempt organization has become so enmeshed with government it has nearly become a formal government agency. MADD gets millions of dollars in federal and state funding, and has a quasi-official relationship with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In some jurisdictions, DWI defendants are sentenced to attend and pay for alcoholic-recovery groups sponsored by MADD. In many cities, MADD officials are even allowed to man sobriety checkpoints alongside police.

On the occasion of its 25th anniversary, perhaps its time Congress revisit the spigot of federal funding flowing to MADD, and consider revoking the organization's tax-exempt status. Clearly, MADD isn't the same organization it was 25 years ago. It has morphed into an anti-alcohol lobbying organization. There's nothing wrong with that — it's certainly within MADD's and its supporters' First Amendment rights.

But taxpayers shouldn't be forced to subsidize them.

Read it all, including this:

MADD's biggest victory on this front was a nationwide blood-alcohol threshold of .08, down from .10. But when two-thirds of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involve blood-alcohol levels of .14 and above, and the average fatal accident occurs at .17, this move doesn't make much sense. It's like lowering the speed limit from 65 to 60 to catch people who drive 100 miles per hour.


  • MADD is a case study in how one person can make a difference. Its founder took personal tragedy and demanded that our elected officials take action.

    It's also a case study in how grassroots organizations can get drunk on their own power and begin to take on issues not because those issues are important, but simply because they can.

    Having said that, I strongly support the states' decisions to lower the legal limit to .08. Sure, most fatalities are at higher levels. So what? It's unsafe to drive at .08. Just because it's even more unsafe at .10 or .20 or .30 doesn't make it OK to drive at .08.

    By Blogger MDS, at 10:07 AM  

  • The problem with .08 is that it has hardly any deterrent effect because no one knows what the real difference between .08 and .1 is. In fact, even if rules of thumb about when you hit .08 were widely circulated, people's bodies vary so much that # of drinks and time would not hold true for such a small difference.
    So the .08 effect is basically a way for politicians to sound like they are doing something, but be effectively doing nothing except punishing a few people who are close to the border.

    How do you know it is unsafe to drive at .08? Where does unsafe start? .06? .04? I'm sure studies have been done, but I have yet to see one documenting the level of impairment.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 10:27 AM  

  • Well, let's assume you're right and we don't know what level of impairment is safe. Shouldn't we err on the side of caution? Here's a good rule of thumb: If you're drinking, don't drive. If you're driving, don't drink. Why is that so hard?

    By Blogger MDS, at 2:02 PM  

  • Obviously don't drink and drive is the point.

    .08 might be great, but I don't know, which is related to my criticism. Changing the law to .08 probably has very little effect on the amount of drinking and driving. It is like if cars never had speedometers and you suddenly announced you were lowering the speed limit by 4 knots on all roads & highways.

    The efforts to lower the limit to .08 would have been much better spent on educating people about what .10 really feels like or how many drinks it takes. Instead of doing something with potential impact politicians can pretend to be trying to make a difference.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 3:56 PM  

  • Okay according to this .08 seems sensible, although Driving skills affected isn't very informative as to actual impairment. It does support my point: people go by feel & the .08-.10 difference is typically one drink.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 4:06 PM  

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