Jan Withers

Jan Withers
MADD National President

 Jan Withers joined MADD in 1992, after her 15-year-old daughter, Alisa Joy, was killed by an underage drinker who chose to drive after consuming numerous beers. She first volunteered by sharing her story and lobbying for tougher legislation. Her new focus in life was to try to make a difference by helping to stop this preventable violent crime.

Now as National President, Withers speaks to lawmakers across the country about the importance of legislation requiring ignition interlocks (or “in-car breathalyzers”) for all drunk driving offenders, a key part of MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving®. She also advocates for federal legislation that provides research funding for technology that will turn cars into the cure for drunk driving. In addition, Withers continues to raise awareness for MADD’s victim support services—even leading a monthly support group—while also expanding the reach of MADD’s underage drinking prevention programs.

Happy Holidays from MADD National President Jan Withers

The holidays are here and the end of 2014 is right around the corner! Which also means, my term as MADD’s National President is just about over.

I’m so proud of the progress we’ve made together this year and over the past three and a half years that I’ve spent as your National President. Thanks to you, each year we save more lives, serve more victims, and bring awareness to the dangers of drunk driving and underage drinking.

To show my thanks, I want to share with you a special holiday video message:

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything you have done this year to help save lives and serve victims. It has truly been an honor to serve as your National President.


Jan Withers
MADD National President


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Help and Hope

After my daughter Alisa was killed, I felt as if I were floating around in an endless black sea of emptiness. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. When a dear friend suggested I call MADD, I replied that I could not even stand, let alone take a stand for something. Her gentle response was, “No, but maybe they can help you.” I didn’t call that day, but some time later when the grief was so intense I felt I may be going crazy, I called.

At that moment, I not only received help, I was also given hope. Annie Powell, who was our MADD Central Maryland ED and victim advocate, gently reached through that phone line and touched my heart. Her kindness provided a rainbow in my dark cloud.

This beautiful help and hope each of you, my MADD family, gives me has continued for the past 22 years. I recently saw a quote by William Bradfield that rings true for us in MADD. “There are those whose lives affect all others around them. Quietly touching one heart, who in turn, touches another. Reaching out to ends further than they would ever know.” The support we give one another other travels far beyond what we can even imagine.

Support is incredibly important, but what also heartens me through those dark days is the knowledge that my work with MADD is helping create a world where drunk driving will no longer be possible. Thanks to MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, we are inches away from making that a reality.

Each of you is my hero, my hope. So many of you honor your loved ones by working to make a difference through MADD’s mission. Others of you are with MADD not because you have personally been affected by drunk driving, but because you care so much about protecting our families. Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, said, “Everything precious can be taken from us, but the one thing that cannot be taken away is our power to choose what we will do with what happens to us.” You are my heroes because you have made that choice, and the road is not always easy.

The truth is that I came to MADD not out of choice, but out of necessity. Now I am here by choice. I am here both because and for Alisa. I am here because a drunk driver killed my beautiful daughter. But I am also here for her … to represent her spirit. She always helped a friend in need and never backed down from a challenge. It is for Alisa that I am with MADD today.

The end of this month I conclude my term as MADD National President. Know that I will always carry your loved ones’ names in my heart. Thank you for sharing them with me. Please know that I will also carry each of you in my heart. Thank you for being part of my family. You hearten my spirit and give me hope. You are that shining North Star that carried me out of the dark tunnel into the light. What a gift you are to me and one another. I am reaching out to touch each of your hearts with my gratitude and love as you have touched mine.

A Footnote in the History Books

Holiday time in November and December is about family to me. It is a time to spend celebrating with friends. And it is also the time of year during which drunk driving injuries and deaths increase dramatically. That means many families will face needless heartache instead of celebration.

But there will be a day when no more families will be shattered because of drunk driving. MADD’s plan to make that day a reality is on course. Technology will soon prevent people from being able to drive when they have a BAC of .08 or above.

Until then I want to remind everyone, especially this time of year when more celebrations and gatherings happen, that if you will be drinking alcohol, decide before you ever go out how you will get home with a non-drinking designated driver.

MADD is sharing red ribbons and magnets for our annual Tie One On For Safety Campaign®. I ask you to put one on each of your vehicles, to remind everyone to not drink and drive this holiday season.

I can hardly wait for the day when the message connected to these red ribbons is obsolete, because drunk driving will be a footnote in the history books. I can hardly wait for the day when holiday time only means time for family and friends during which there will be no new tragedies and no new heartaches because of someone’s decision to drink and drive.

You Only Live Once

I read an article recently titled, “This is What Brave Means,” by Glennon Doyle Melton. In the article, she relayed something that her daughter, Tish, said to her in the car, “Mom, how come everyone says YOLO to try to get people to do dangerous stuff? How ‘bout be SAFE because YOLO???? You Only Live Once, so try not to get yourself dead so soon.”

Underage drinking kills 4,700 people each year, more than all the other drugs combined. It is dangerous, and too often deadly.

Many teens push others to take these risks by telling them they are being fearless or daring. If they don’t they are often labeled wimps. But I love how Glennon illustrates bravery.

“Give me that girl [or guy] who says no in the face of pressure to bong a beer or bully a peer. Give me a girl [or guy] who pleases that internal voice before pleasing others. Give me that person so I can call her [or him] BRAVE loudly and proudly in front of the whole world. Give me a person who has the wisdom to listen to [his] her own voice and the courage to speak it out loud. Even if it disappoints others. Especially then.”

I say it again. Drinking before 21 is dangerous. It literally kills thousands of people every year, including my daughter Alisa who was killed by an underage drunk driver when she was 15.

As Tish says, “YOLO. You Only Live Once, so try not to get yourself dead too soon.” I like the way she thinks! She is brave.

Alisa’s Law: In My Daughter’s Honor

I was taken by surprise when recently asked with respect if it would be okay to name a bill sponsored by Congresswoman Nita Lowey in my daughter's honor. They would call it "Alisa's Law." Tears filled my eyes as I consented.

Those of us whose loved ones have been killed know that feeling. It is deep gratitude, blended together with deep sadness, topped with a dollop of smiles. A primary feeling every parent whose child has died is the intense need to have them remembered. They are our life, our hearts, and our souls.

It has been a long and painful journey since Alisa died 22 years ago. It has been a heartwarming and uplifting journey as well. Working together with our MADD family and close community friends around the country over these years is truly what has inspired me and held me up. My intense desire to support others struggling with heartache resulting from drunk driving, plus my passionate determination to end this violent crime propels me forward.   

I fully intend to witness the complete end of drunk driving before I die. It will happen, thanks to DADSS, the advanced technology we will enjoy in the near future. In the meantime, I stand equally determined with my MADD family in pursuing efforts that research shows are most effective in reducing this carnage.

One primary method is to require alcohol ignition interlocks for ALL convicted drunk drivers. MADD is laser-beam-focused on working to get such laws passed in every state. Indeed, when we began our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® in 2006 there was only one state with such a law. Today, pending the signing of a bill in Delaware, 24 states will have such laws.

Why do we do this? Because the deaths resulting from drunk driving have been reduced significantly - up to 43% in Arizona and 42% in Oregon! Those are amazing results. Effective!

This life-saving legislation is supported by Congress, NHTSA, NTSB, highway safety organizations, and even portions of the alcohol industry. Even part of the current highway transportation law, MAP-21, offers incentive grants to states that require interlocks for all convicted offenders. Still, half of our states refrain from passing such laws. My state, Maryland, is one of those states.

Thankfully, New York Representative Nita Lowey, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, introduced an interlock sanction bill. The bill would create a sanction and states which do not have an all offender interlock law would lose federal highway dollars. This is modeled after the national. 08 laws (which Ms. Lowey was a critical supporter) and the 21 minimum drinking age.

Sadly, it has been my experience over these past many years that federal sanctions are the only way some states will enact the most effective drunk driving legislation. Indeed, I remember very well our work urging states to ratify .08 BAC legal limit as the standard in every state. It was only after sanctions were imposed in the federal transportation law that remaining hold-out states lowered their legal limit to .08 BAC. Lowering the legal limit has saved thousands of lives since its inception. Today, it is again time for lawmakers in every state to do the right thing and enact the most effective measures in saving the most lives and preventing the most injuries from drunk driving.

I was so very touched when they asked me to name this law “Alisa's Law” because it occurred on her birthday! I am also moved because her dad, Joe, and I have taken her with us on this journey to affect change. Her closest friend once said that Alisa was so private and would no doubt be mortified that her picture was “everywhere” now. But I don’t think so. She was such a kind and compassionate person that I know this change would be as important to her as it is us.

As much as I am honored to have this legislation in Alisa’s name, I wish more than anything that there would have to be no Alisa’s Law, nor Leandra’s Law in New York, nor Emma’s Law in South Carolina, nor Melanie’s Law in Massachusetts – nor any law needed to stop this needless crime. I will do such a happy dance when we see the day that these laws are simply part of the history books. I know you will celebrate with me! 

Click here to email your lawmaker in support of Alisa’s Law.

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