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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.


A Footnote in the History Books
By | November 5, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Drunk Driving

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I can hardly wait for the day when the message connected to these red ribbons is obsolete, because drunk driving will be a footnote in the history books.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
By | October 1, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Underage Drinking

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
By | August 5, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Drunk Driving

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.


Are We There Yet?
By | June 30, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Victim Services , Drunk Driving

Ah, summertime... vacations. I remember my parents would take the family on a vacation every summer. Each of those excursions included a long road trip. I remember as a child thinking the time in the car was endless. My sister and I would cry, “Are we there yet?” several times a day on those journeys.

I remember similar excursions with my children, including the same universal question from the backseat. On one trip to the North Carolina coast, our youngest would utter that question and our reply was “4, maybe 5 hours.” Following that trip it became our family joke – everything would take “4, maybe 5 hours.”  Our daughter, Alisa, would love to tease her little brother with that reply, much to his chagrin.  

Maybe two summers after Alisa was killed, Joe and I felt we needed to ‘get away’ for a while.  I just knew Hawaii would provide some calm, a temporary salve on my broken heart. Hawaii was as close to heaven in my book as one could be – perfect weather, spectacular scenery, and laid back people.

You can guess what I am going to say now. I did not escape my pain; it simply went with me. I honestly had anticipated a respite from my sorrow. I was shocked to learn that I couldn’t enjoy my time away like I had hoped. The anguish was just so raw and, of course, why would I think I could keep it back home while I took a vacation from it.  I cried out, “When will I get there?!”  

In time, as life moved forward, I learned that I did, too. I am not ‘over’ my daughter’s death, but I have moved forward into a new life, with this loss part of my reality. Am I happy again? Yes. Do I miss her? Yes, every moment of my existence.

As summertime brings opportunities of relaxation, of family gatherings, and time for vacations, those of you in the early years of your grief may wonder, “Are we there yet?” I want you to know there can be light at the end of the tunnel. Your ‘there’ will be different than what you knew, but you will know when you arrive. Your new ‘there’ will bring light and smiles once again – it will just be a different ‘there’.

I like to say I am not over Alisa’s death, but I am moving forward every day in my new life, and I take her with me in my heart.  


Father’s Day, June 2014
By | June 4, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Victim Services , Drunk Driving

At MADD, we like to say we are not just mothers. We are fathers, sisters, brothers and friends.

As we move into June, we celebrate Father’s Day. My thoughts go back to the time immediately after Alisa was killed.  Following her death, friends frequently asked Joe, my husband, how I was coping. Seldom, however, did anyone ask me how Joe, Alisa’s dad, was doing. Our society seems to have such a belief in the strength of maternal love, frequently ignoring the intensity of paternal love.    

I happen to be writing this on Memorial Day, which is especially significant to my family because my first husband, my children’s natural father, was killed on active duty when they were very young. He was a wonderful daddy – always loving and active in their lives. I loved co-parenting with him. I thought there could be no greater partnership. When he died our world fell apart. Not only did he make the ultimate sacrifice protecting our country, my children also made that sacrifice.  


Jennifer & Alisa with their daddy, Doug Withers

A few years later, Joe Sikes walked into our hearts, nobly and humbly taking on that role of daddy. What a gift he is. He just openly and quietly loves my children as he does his own, without hesitation nor fanfare. I love co-parenting with him, too! They are not ‘my’ children, they are 100% ‘our’ children. He is just like that. Anyone who knows this family knows how heartbroken Joe was when Alisa was killed by a drunk driver. Today Joe and I walk hand-in-hand in our commitment to end this violent crime and support others who walk with us on this journey.


Alisa with her daddy, Joe Sikes

I think of all the bereaved fathers at MADD who grieve the needless death of their precious children. Their hearts are shattered, yet their resolve is strong—the resolve to diligently work until there are no more deaths or injuries caused by drunk driving. They are a powerful force in MADD. They are “Mothers” too – Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  This Father’s Day, I wish to honor all the fathers who are “Mothers” in this mighty organization and tell you how deeply I appreciate each of you.


Jan Withers
MADD National President


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