Candy Lightner Interview
(Founder of M A D D)
Each year more than
23,000 people are killed by drunk drivers in the U.S.
Candy Lightner is the founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).
You may recall seeing her story on an NBC-TV docu-drama, "Mothers Against
Drunk Driving: The Candy Lightner Story," broadcast in 1983.
Mrs. Lightner started the organization on May 7, 1980, 4 days after her
13-year-old daughter Cari, died at the hands of a repeat offender drunk driver
in Fair Oaks, Calif.
Mrs. Lightner's efforts led to President Reagan appointing a Blue Ribbon
Commission on Drunk and Drugged Driving in 1982; over 400 drunk driving laws
being enacted nationwide since 1981; and California passing the toughest drunk
driving laws in the country.
The awards that have come Mrs. Lightner's way include induction into Esquire
Magazine’s Register of America's New Leadership Class In 1985; listed
in the World Almanac and Book of Facts among "America's 25 Most Influential
Women in 1985," and ranked 14th in Good Housekeeping's Most Admired Women's
poll in 1986.
Q. It's been reported DWI deaths are on the increase again. After all
that's been said and done by organizations like MADD, why are we seeing
A. I think there are a number of things. I think one of the things is
that the movement itself has become somewhat apathetic; the anti-drunk
driving movement. I think they have a false sense of accomplishment.
The first 5 years, we passed over 500 laws and were able to dramatically
reduce death and injury on our highways. What happened is people began
to sit back and say the problem has been solved. And, in fact that's
not true as you are reading in the paper. I think the other thing is
people refuse to get involved. It takes a death of someone close to them
before they decide to take a second look at the issue. And, unfortunately,
in many cases, that's too late. And, I did the same thing.
Q. The DWI problem has been around for a long time, yet it wasn't until
you formed M.A.D.D. that the problem received serious attention. What
does that say about a country when a private citizen has to go out and
change attitudes, and help enact laws?
A. It basically says, and I used to say this too, that drunk driving
was the only socially acceptable form of homicide. Drinking had become
so socially acceptable that unfortunately as a result, that crimes such
as drinking and driving, don't use the word activities, also became socially
acceptable. Judges do it. Juries do it. District attorneys do it. So
you're dealing with a crime that is not considered a crime by society.
In my case, 1 was the first victim to speak out in a public way and I
was able to garner the attention of the media, and through the media,
then the public You know, people began to look at it from a different
perspective. Instead of looking at the criminal and thinking. There but
for the grace of God go I.' what I hope to do is educate them so they
would look at myself or other victims and say, 'Hey, there but for the
grace of God could go my child or my spouse.'
Q. According to the Stop DWI program, more than half of all Americans
will be involved in an alcohol related traffic accident in their lifetime.
That's beyond frightening.
A. That's more than will be involved in a handgun incident. We don't
call these accidents, they're not. They're crimes or crashes. 54% of
your violent crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol, but
we don't call them accidents. We really like to use the term crime.
Q. So why isn't there more of a public outcry or public outrage?
A. There was for a while, for about the first 5 years. We didn't pass
over 500 laws, because we twiddled our thumbs. Obviously, it was an
issue the public got involved in. Lately, there's just been no leadership.
I don't see any press on the issue. The only thing I've read lately
on drunk driving is the fact that the statistics are going up, and
a basic where is MADD. And that's the truth. That's all I've seen.
I haven't seen any editorials on the subject. I haven't seen any major
outcry. It's really been a shame.
Q. What would make anyone drink and drive today?
A. Stupidity. (Laughs ) I laugh when people say to me, well I don't know
what my limit is. So, don't drink then, if you're gonna drive. The
fact that they would even ask that question in the context of drinking
and driving shows you the kind of mentality you're dealing with.
Q. When you're 18, you can have a driver's license, a credit card, many,
and join the Armed Services. Yet. you have to be 21 to drink. Just how
fair is that?
A. Well, I don't know how many people die at marriage ceremonies, nor
do I know how many people die when they sign contracts or purchase credit
cards. So, we're talking about something to me that is as different as
apples and oranges. Also, we have different age groups for different
levels of responsibilities. You can get a driver's license at 1G. but
nobody wants to lower the drinking age to 16. You can't be a policeman
until you're 21, or a President, until you're 35. So. that's just the
way this country works in terms of responsibilities. As far as joining
the Armed Services, when you join the military, you're not just given
a gun and told to go kill. You're trained and you're supervised. Well,
that doesn't happen when you drink. And there's a world of difference.
Q. If the driving age was upped to 21. would alcohol-related deaths
A. Yeah. The problem you'd have with that is that parents would raise
Holy Hell, because they hate chaperoning, driving around their kids.
I think it's the parents more than the kids that want their children
to be able to drive at 16. And. I find I'm an unusual parent in that
I didn't allow either one of my children to have a license on the day
they turned 16. I did not feel that just because you become 16 means
you're automatically mature enough to handle a two-ton weapon.
Q. Is there no solution to the DWI problem?
A. I think there are solutions to the drunk driving problem or I wouldn't
have started MADD. What is happening now is the solutions are not being
enforced; people aren't coming up with new ones, and the press is making
statements that the laws didn't work, which is total nonsense. The
laws in fact in many cases have worked, if you read the research appropriately.
And in cases where it hasn't worked, it's because it's not being enforced.
That's something we knew was going to happen. We knew it from the very
beginning. We'd been warned of that, that if we go into things like
mandatory jail, that the judges would not enforce the laws alone to
solve the problem. You have to look at attitude, community awareness,
publicity and programs. And those things unfortunately, haven't been
consistent. There's simply no leadership in the movement. There's no
activism. When people don't have a sense of involvement, they become
very apathetic. And that's what you have, apathy. That's my speech
that I give. You can make a difference.
Q. You're no longer involved with MADD. Why?
A. I left it because I got caught in a power struggle and a take over
attempt that was my second in 5½ years. 1 decided if people
wanted to go through that much hassle to control an organization, that
was fine, and it was time for me to go on to other things. It was a
good thing for me to leave. I needed to grieve for my daughter, which
I had not done, and I needed to get on with my own life.
This interview is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Katherine
Kovach Marshfield. who lost her life to a drunk driver on August 22.
1987. while walking on South Avery Ave.
M A D D Canada & M A D D USA
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