The past few weeks have been very busy and filled with variety.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions invited me to join others from around the country in Washington on June 20th and 21st for the first-ever National Summit Crime Reduction and Public Safety Summit. Both Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence spoke to the group. It was encouraging that MADD was included, acknowledging that drunk driving is a violent crime that can be prevented.
A flight to Reno, Nevada brought me to the Annual Conference and Exhibition of the National Sheriffs’ Association on June 23rd though the 25th. More than 1,000 people attended the meeting. I had the honor of presenting to the Youth and Juvenile Justice Committee.
Then, two days later, I was in Georgia giving a presentation on MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® during a Summit for the Governor’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan.
The next day, I was literally all over Georgia with Harris Blackwood, Director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and Colonel Mark McDonough, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. By helicopter, we flew from Augusta to Savannah to Macon to Albany. Each stop was part of the Kick-Off for Operation Zero Tolerance, a high visibility enforcement program that targets impaired drivers through concentrated patrols and sobriety checkpoints.
The last month has been a whirlwind, but all worth it if we can move closer to a day when there are NO MORE VICTIMS®.
For Mothers Against Drunk Driving® and for me as National President, it was an honor to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on June 14. It was an honor to be the voice of all the victims MADD has, and will, serve. It was clear from the Senators’ comments that they value and the opinion of MADD. Many of them said they were proud to work with MADD and thanked me for sharing my personal story.
The hearing concerned the development of autonomous vehicle technology. And while the other three witnesses were experts on automobiles and the technology, MADD was clearly considered to be a major stakeholder because successful development of this technology could lead to the end of drunk driving -- a goal that we have worked toward for more than 36 years.
I was there to encourage development of this exciting technology and offer four recommendations for the Senators to consider:
Support federal regulatory framework. It is important that the playing field be level and states should leave the self-driving car safety issues to the automotive safety experts at the federal level. To that end, it is critical that the Congress and/or the administration provide the necessary guidance and regulations to the autonomous vehicle community in order to allow a national roll-out of this technology. Emphasis must be placed on ensuring that the technology is safe, and that processes are followed to ensure that rigorous safety standards are followed, and that effective methods for educating the public on technologies are developed. We believe the DOT/NHTSA Autonomous Vehicle Policy issued last year is a good beginning for providing safety guidance to those companies developing Highly Automated Vehicles. MADD and others in the traffic safety community look forward to working with the Committee to help ensure that public safety is of the highest priority, that the development of the technology continues at a rapid pace, and that future public acceptance comes to fruition.
Support existing state regulatory system. The state role in autonomous vehicles is to continue doing what they do for conventional vehicles today. This includes titling, registration, insurance requirements, etc. States should not regulate the safety of autonomous vehicles because they do not have the technical expertise to do so and their involvement could hinder the technological progress in the deployment of this life-saving technology.
Support for level four and five autonomous technologies. For MADD’s purposes, it is important that vehicles achieve level four and level five automation (i.e., vehicles that do not require a human driver in at least certain environments or under certain conditions). Drunk driving is arguably the biggest killer on our roadways. Alcohol and drug impairment have lasting effects, so it is imperative for maximum safety that the car be able to completely take control and remove the driver from driving.
Support for evaluating the technology as it evolves. The Autonomous Vehicle Policy includes provisions for recording and sharing information on system capabilities and data on events, incidents, and crashes. These data can be used to enhance the safety benefits of the technology and should be standardized, anonymous, absent of propriety information, and made available not only to the federal government but also to states, researchers, and the public.
To be the voice of the victims to the members of the committee allowed me to convey the devastation that this 100% preventable crime still causes every day. My hope is that by witnessing to them, Congress will help move forward the development of autonomous vehicle technology, and that one day we can celebrate and say……NO MORE VICTIMS®.
Don’t let the promise of summer end in tragedy. Whether it’s young adults using prom and graduation as a launch pad to the beach, or families loading their cars for long awaited vacations, summertime is a catalyst for lifelong memories. However, summer is also one of the deadliest times of the year on our highways.
On land and on sea, there are measures you can take to ensure safe and happy times instead of sadness. First, plan ahead. If alcohol is part of your plan, a designated driver, a taxi, Uber, public transportation or a designated non-drinking driver should be as well. As a parent, talk to your children about the dangers of alcohol. Set a good example too. And that goes for friends as well.
General car safety should be part of the plan too. Wear your seatbelt. Don’t speed. And for young drivers, don’t travel with too many passengers in the car with you. Whether it’s a friend or a text, distracted driving is dangerous.
And, for the same reason, boating is often left out of the conversation. But many of the same rules apply. The most important one concerns alcohol. If you’re going to operate a boat, don’t drink. It’s illegal… but more importantly, it’s deadly dangerous.
Following a few simple rules can make your summer one to remember… for all the right reasons.
Have a safe and relaxing summer!
Skip Church, MADD President Colleen Sheehey-Church's husband offers his perspective on the tragic events and death of their son Dustin. Read below:
While the name of the organization seems to focus on one member of the family unit, “Mothers” Against Drunk Driving has a poignant understanding that this horrible crime effects everyone in the family as well as friends and the community. Dads are in that group. My wife Colleen, the National President of MADD, is always cognizant of the agonizing reach that drunk driving has in our country and shows the compassion and empathy necessary to talk with victims, law enforcement and legislators around the country.
When our son Dustin was killed by a drunk and drugged driver, our lives changed… forever. Family gatherings are always missing someone. There is always an empty chair at Thanksgiving. And still, to this day, 13 years after his death, I stir my coffee each morning with a spoon that Dustin gave me. There is nothing that makes that horrible tragedy better, nothing that makes it go away, nothing that allows us to forget.
Colleen has done remarkable work nationwide, even traveling to Brazil to be a keynote speaker at an international conference. In Connecticut, I’ve worked with the tremendous staff at the state office to change our drunk driving laws. In the last decade, we have transformed the state from one of MADD’s “Fatal 15” into a state that has all offender ignition interlock and dui child endangerment. We give ignition interlock seminars to law enforcement officers and the judicial branch. And we continue to work on other legislation that will tighten the noose around drunk driving.
Will you join us?
Still, Dustin is dead and we are sad. That will never change. So, if I were to give advice, I would tell fathers on this Father’s Day to give their children a big kiss and a hug and at every opportunity to make their kids aware of the dangers of drunk driving. To those fathers who have lost a child, I reach out to you with a hug and ask you to make a difference… change the laws… change the culture… change the future… so that one day there will be NO MORE VICTIMS®.
- William "Skip" Church
If you want to join us and be a part of the difference, you can get involved today!
The recent 2017 Mid-Atlantic DUI Conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia provided a wealth of information about all aspects of drunk and drugged driving to more than 300 attendees. John Marshall, the Director of the Office of Safety Programs with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched the 3-day conference with his keynote address on “The Road to Zero”, eliminating all traffic fatalities.
John Marshall, the Director of the Office of Safety Programs with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with MADD President Colleen Sheehey-Church
I also had the opportunity to speak to the attendees about Mothers Against Drunk Driving and its continuing Campaign to Eliminate Drunk and Drugged Driving. My focus was on our support of law enforcement and what they do each day to make our roads safe.
Speakers at the conference covered a variety of important topics including Ignition Interlock Devices, sobriety checkpoints, oral fluid testing, the emerging technology of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, the Drug Recognition Expert program and many other topics. Even the DADSS car made an appearance for all to see and experience. This advance technology may be the game changer in reducing drunk driving fatalities. I will be one of the first to purchase one of these vehicles the minute they hit the market!
As someone who lost a child in a crash caused by a drunk and drugged driver, I was encouraged to see so many people devoting so much of their time and talent toward achieving the goal of NO MORE VICTIMS.