Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) Closing Their Alaska Chapter

On Monday September 18th, 2006, KTUU reported that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) will be closing their Alaska chapter on September 30th, after 25 years of operation. The national headquarters also decided to close several other chapters as well, including the Oregon and Washington chapters. However, in a subsequent report, Marti Greeson (pictured at left) hinted that a regional office serving the entire Pacific Northwest may be open. But for now, MADD's presence in Alaska after September 30th will rely solely on volunteers and its website.

Greeson, who's been the executive director of the Alaska chapter, cited financial difficulties as the primary cause. She stated that money has been tight for a long time at MADD Alaska, especially with donations going to the 9-11 victims, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina efforts. She further stated that MADD National had to look at the big picture, despite Alaska's high rate of drinking and driving. “When you are looking at hard numbers and saying Alaska had 37 alcohol-related fatalities, but California had over 600, then you have to make very hard decisions about where your dollar is going to have the most impact,” Greeson said.

However, Greeson did justify the organization's work during their time in Alaska. “I think that the service we've provided and the work we've done has been critical over the years to Alaska, to changing community norms and tolerance about drinking and driving just being OK,” said Greeson. She also said she remembers every person and every crash involving alcohol.

The closure of Alaska’s MADD chapter has also been a shock and a disappointment for law enforcement. Anchorage Police Department said MADD has offered critical support. “MADD has been nothing more than a proponent of preventing further injuries and death as a result of drunk driving,” said Anchorage Police Department Lt. Paul Honeman.

Greeson said it’s now up to the community to pick up where her staff is being forced to leave off. Alaska will now have three community action sites for MADD, and all will depend on volunteers to run them.

A subsequent report by KTUU airing on September 19th provided some background on the Alaska chapter. The Alaska chapter of MADD was born of tragedy after June Garrish lost two grandchildren, who were killed by a drunken driver near the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood. Garrish channeled her grief into constructive action by starting MADD Alaska in late 1981 and it became the catalyst for changing Alaskans’ previously-tolerant attitudes toward drinking and driving.

Ron Otte was chief of the Anchorage Police Department when MADD-Alaska was formed in 1981. He said Anchorage was a much different city then. “Bars stayed open almost all night. And this was the reputation we had in the Lower 48, that it was almost like stepping 100 years back in time. And we took pride in that,” Otte said.

In the old days people used to be ‘six-packed’ by their friends, which meant six drinks in a row put in front of them. That is not legal now,” said Dale Fox, executive director of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailer’s Association (CHARR).

Through education and community pressure, MADD helped change local attitudes about drinking and driving. MADD put a face on the devastation caused by drunken drivers. First, the group targeted bar hours. Bars closed at 5 a.m. in the early 1980s, and MADD wanted last call at 2 a.m. Soon afterward, happy hours were banned and the drinking age raised to 21.

MADD has had an important roll in raising the awareness of drunk driving fatalities. The [alcohol and service] industry took lots of steps to improve their position as it related to drunk driving,” according to Dale Fox.

He credits MADD, as well as his own industry, for helping to change attitudes. “Starting with bringing Techniques of Alcohol Management classes to Alaska -- the TAM classes -- we brought those to Alaska before it was even required by the Legislature,” said Fox. The "TAM" card is as indispensable as a driving licence to many hospitality workers today.

Fox said recent studies showed drunken driving deaths are on the decline in Alaska, and MADD’s statistics back that up. The worry is whether those statistics will continue to drop with MADD closing its chapter. CHARR cited a national study indicating that alcohol-related deaths dropped 44 percent in Alaska between 1994 and 2004 -- the second highest decline in the U.S. The percentage of underage drinkers killed in crashes was also dramatically down -- almost 76 percent -- the largest decline in the nation.

MADD said Alaska had one of the top three drunken driving fatality rates in the country in the 1980s, well above the national average. But according to MADD’s most recent study, alcohol-related fatal crashes now account for 29 percent of all fatal crashes in the state, well below the national rate of 41 percent.

Analysis: This is where it begins to get a bit controversial, gentle readers. There's no question that MADD has been effective. Attitudes towards misuse of alcohol were too tolerant, and the results of their advocacy have been salutary.

Unfortunately, as is the case with so many originally well-intentioned advocacy groups, growth and fame have brought arrogance and intolerance into the mix. The first rumblings in Alaska occurred in 2002, when MADD awarded our state a letter grade of "D-minus" on their annual report despite the fact that we had stiffened our DUI laws during the year. The excuse - we didn't do it fast enough.

Indeed, if you view their website, you'll see that while they do give us credit for the laws we've passed, they want us to pass a whole gaggle of additional laws to make them happy.

Existing Laws in Alaska

.08 Per Se Comments: 28.35.030(a)(2)
Administrative License Revocation Comments: 28.15.165(a)(1) and 28.15.181(a)(8); first refusal - 90 days;
Child Endangerment Comments: Class A misdemeanor. 11.51.100. Passed 2004.
Dram Shop Comments: 04.21.020(b)
Fake ID
Felony DUI Comments: Felony after the third and subsequent convictions.
Graduated Drivers Licensing Comments: Passed 2004.
Happy Hour Laws Comments: 04.16.015
High BAC Comments: Passed 2004. >.16 - interlock for six months; >.24 - interlock for one year
Ignition Interlock Comments: Not required; 12.55.102
Mandatory Alcohol Assessment/Treatment Comments: 28.35.030(c)
Mandatory Alcohol Education Comments: 28.35.030(c)
Mandatory BAC Testing for Drivers who Survive
Mandatory Jail 2nd Offense
Mandatory Server Training Comments: Both on/off premise, for new and existing licenses
Penalties for Test Refusal Greater than Test Failure
Preliminary Breath Tester Comments: 28.35.031(b)
Primary Belt Law Comments: Passed February 2006.
Selling/Furnishing Alcohol to Youth
Sobriety Checkpoints Comments: Is allowed to do, but does not.
Vehicle Confiscation Comments: Law takes effect on second offense within six years
Vehicle Impound Comments: Mandatory for Class C felonies; 28.35.030(n)(5)
Victim Rights Constitutional Amendment
Youth Consumption of Alcohol Comments: Exceptions: Parent/guardian/spouse gives consent AND in any private location OR Other religious, educational, medicinal; 04.16.050, 051, and 052
Youth Possession of Alcohol Comments: Exceptions: Parent/guardian/spouse gives consent AND in any private location OR Other religious, educational, medicinal; 04.16.050, 051, and 052
Youth Purchase Comments: 04.16.051, 052, and 060
Zero Tolerance Comments: .00 BAC limit

Laws NOT in Alaska (click on the topic for an explanation):

Anti-Plea Bargaining
Habitual Traffic Offender
Hospital BAC Reporting
Keg Registration
Lower BAC for Repeat Offender
Mandatory BAC Testing for Drivers who are Killed
Open Container Law that is Federally Compliant
Plate Sanctions
Repeat Offender Law that is Federally Compliant
Social Host
Vehicle Sanctions While Suspended
Vehicular Homicide
Youth Attempt at Purchase

This voluminous list of laws may explain another reason why contributions to MADD are declining - people are getting tired of being hectored and lectured by these self-appointed guardians of the highways. They definitely contributed to the departure of MADD founder Candy Lightner (whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver), who now characterizes the organization as "neo-prohibitionist".

And one of the most controversial issues is Sobriety Checkpoints. MADD is an enthusiastic proponent of these checkpoints - but not just during holidays. They want them frequently, year round. They imperiously and arrogantly dismiss opponents of checkpoints as those who drink and drive. While the legality of sobriety checkpoints was upheld by the Supreme Court on June 14th, 1990, it stills violates the presumption of innocence. People are being stopped for mere presence rather than cause. I would have no objection to being pulled over into a checkpoint in the event of an escaped convict or a missing child. But I very much object to being pulled over simply because some fatassed superannuated soccer mom is scared that I might have had a few drinks. Besides, I rarely if ever drink - why should I have to prove I'm not impaired? And this is happening in "Amerikwan" society in so many other areas, too. The presumption of innocence is slowly being eaten away.

On the Alcoholfacts.org website, Dr. David P. Hanson had this to say about MADD's prohibitionist goals:

Drunk driving has been defined in the U.S. as driving at the .10 BAC level, but is being re-defined down to .08. At least five states have attempted to lower that definition of drunk driving to .05. Doris Aiken, the founder of MADD's sister organization, Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID), wants to lower the level to .04. Exploiting the tragedies of September 11, the RID leader charges that "Drunken drivers are the terrorists of the road." There is now a move in Vermont to define drunk driving at the .02 BAC level. What's the ultimate goal? MADD's Tina Pasco asserts that "The only safe amount when you are mixing drinking and driving is zero -- double zero. No alcohol."

No one should drive after drinking, but defining drunk driving as driving after using mouth wash is counterproductive and impractical and a waste of limited resources. Zero tolerance isn't working in schools and it won't work on the highways. For more, visit
Zero Tolerance.

And Dr. Hanson is just getting warmed up:

Most alcohol-related traffic deaths occur when other important causal factors are present, such as using a cell phone, fatigue, drug use, inexperience in driving, road rage, speeding, poorly lit roads, and failure to use safety belts. And, of course, most traffic fatalities don't involve any alcohol at all. If MADD really wanted to reduce traffic fatalities, it would also care about these major causes of traffic deaths --- but it clearly doesn't. MADD is no longer a safety-promotion organization but an anti-alcohol organization. Mothers Against Drunk Driving stigmatizes light or moderate alcohol consumption, even when it isn't associated with either being underage or driving. For example:

- MADD sells a graphic showing two empty glasses of alcohol surrounded by the words assault, drowning, burns, rape and suicide.
- MADD sells a graphic that equates beer with heroin by depicting a beer bottle as a drug syringe.
- MADD sells a television ad insisting that "if you think there's a difference" between heroin and alcohol, "you're dead wrong."

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has clearly become not simply anti-drunk driving or even anti-impaired driving, but anti-alcohol.

MADD not only is neo-prohibitionist, but has also been accused of using junk science as well as lack of integrity. They are also clearly hostile to the Bill of Rights. Additional pages on the Alcoholfacts.org website that would be useful to examine include MADD Flunks The Truth Test, by Edward Haas, and The Reputation of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, by Dr. David J. Hanson.

After reviewing this material, you won't want to give MADD a single penny! They clearly don't deserve it.

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  1. Good article. Another excellent source of information it http://www.ridl.us

  2. Stop Drunk Driving Now's President and Founder, Ron Bellanti, gives high school students the cold hard facts on drunk driving. Ron is dedicated to helping teenagers realize the consequences of drunk driving and have them make the right decisions as well. Learn more about drunk driving prevention, statistics and how to get your school involved at www.stopddnow.com

    Recently, Ron spoke at Londonderry High School in Londonderry, New Hampshire educating students on the perils of drunk driving. Read more on what the Derry News thought of the drunk driving prevention event at www.derrynews.com/londonderry/x2073120501/LHS-students-hear-cold-hard-facts