|Jan Withers, Nicole Vazquez and Delanie Walker|
I watched as a few young men entered the small commuter plane I had just boarded myself. They were huge – several were so tall they had to crouch to walk down the aisle. Some wore shirts with the Ravens team logo. I knew we were headed to the same event I was and that I would be meeting with them the following day. We were participating in the NFL Rookie Symposium.
I met Nicole Vazquez, with MADD’s corporate development department, who she showed me around. She had set up a table with our information right across from the NFL Mothers and NFL Fathers tables. We were privileged to eat dinner with the teams and staff who were there to offer their knowledge and support for these men. It is clear they are dedicated to helping them be successful, not just as football players but also as human beings.
They have several days of intensive training about the life skills they will need and use in their career. MADD has partnered with the NFL in fostering designated driver programs with many teams, as well as speaking directly with team members, owners, coaches and their spouses. They invited us to this year’s Rookie Symposium to participate in the classes. The entire symposium was amazing!
Delanie Walker played in the last Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers. He is now with the Tennessee Titans. I met him in Nashville when we both spoke at a press conference and did interviews together to celebrate the state passing their all-offender ignition interlock bill. I was taken with his sincerity and his dedication.
Delanie’s Aunt Alice and Uncle Bryan Young traveled all the way to New Orleans to watch their nephew in the Super Bowl. On the way back to their hotel following the game and gathering afterward, an alleged drunk driver caused a crash that killed both of them. Delanie so eloquently says, “What was one of the happiest days of my life quickly became the worst day of my life.” He is an impressive individual. He immediately decided to make a difference and has joined with MADD to do everything possible to stop this pervasive crime.
Delanie and I again took the front of the room together to greet the new NFL rookies and talk with them about avoiding drinking and driving. He now calls us “side-kicks” and “partners-in-crime.” I love it.
It was clear the young men were touched by our stories. They asked questions and added comments. It was great to have Delanie there because they could relate to him. He talked their language and had their attention, as well as their respect. Most teams have a service that will drive the players anywhere and pick them up. As Delanie says, “So there is no excuse for you to drink and drive. Besides possibly hurting or killing someone, it can cost you your career and your income.” They listened!
I hated leaving. Nina Walker, our national board member whose precious daughter, Ginger, was killed by a drunk driver, arrived as I left and is continuing to speak to more rookies with Delanie as I write this. I want to give a huge thank you to the NFL for recognizing this issue and taking steps to correct it. And Delanie, my side-kick, thank you for being an inspiration to so many. I know your Aunt Peaches and Uncle Bryan are very proud of you.
MADD is dedicated to serving the victims of drunk driving and to advocating on their behalf. We were founded by a mother whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver, and we continue to serve a victim or survivor of drunk driving every eight minutes.
MADD considers drunk driving to be a violent crime and all offenders should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. It is for this very reason that MADD hopes that our immigration laws treat it as a life-threatening criminal offense when considering US citizenship.
MADD believes that one DUI is too many. This is why we are focused on countermeasures that are proven to prevent drunk driving, such as sobriety checkpoints and ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, and we are looking forward to a day when future in-vehicle technology will be able to prevent anyone with a BAC of .08 or above from getting on a road.
MADD National President, Victim and Bereaved Mom
This is the season for photographs. We commemorate proms, graduations, summer vacations and gathering of family and friends by snapping lots of pictures. We send them to one another in texts and post them on Facebook. It is a season of celebration and relaxation.
However, for many families, this also becomes the season to have those pictures abruptly come to an end. There will be no more goofy faces of their teen locking arms with friends and hamming it up for the camera. Eventually, the clothes being worn in the photos become dated; reminding us how much time has gone by since we saw our loved one.
I am a mother who grieves because all I have left are pictures from 20 years ago of my 15-year-old daughter who was in the car of a 17-year-old drinking driver when she was killed. How I would love to have newer pictures commemorating current joyful moments. How I long for that…
This is the season that has been labeled the “100 Deadliest Days for Teen Drivers.” More teens die in traffic crashes during each of the summer months than during non-summer months.
I encourage parents to remain vigilant in keeping your children safe during these dangerous months, as well as year round. Set driving boundaries for your teens by limiting passengers, restricting night driving, insisting on seat belts, and eliminating trips without purpose. I urge you to continue your conversations about not drinking alcohol until they are 21 and never getting in the car with someone who has been drinking. Most important, let them know you are there for them.
I wish you many lovely summer days, with many more photos commemorating wonderful events and beautiful memories.
MADD National President
Every face was a canvas of deep emotion. Tears of remembrance and heartache painted their cheeks. Their rocky ascent out of the dark hole had been daunting. Nevertheless, it was clear they stood victorious at the top…..Together! So too, tears of reunion and victory sparkled like diamonds in so many eyes.
I was humbled to be even a small part of something so powerful. On the 25th anniversary date of the Kentucky bus crash, survivors, family members and friends of those who died and those who survived gathered to honor those caught in the inflamed bus. The first ceremony of remembrance was in that very school, but many of the survivors still were hospitalized and unable to attend. This time they came with their families, their friends, their spouses and their children, some the very age their parents were on that fateful trip to Kings Island. I observed the faces in the audience as victims and survivors spoke so eloquently. The bond was tangible and the love profound.
Many wore the scars seared into their skin from the flames 25 years ago. To me, they were exquisitely beautiful and regal. I can only imagine their struggle as they grew up, and yet today they do not hide, but wear them with dignity. They joined with family members of those who died to cherish the memories and celebrate their lives.
Harold Dennis, one of the survivors, has partnered with a writer, director, and other producers to launch the film IMPACT: AFTER THE CRASH. They recreated the horror of the crash and then magnificently unfolded the inspiration of human resilience and fortitude that followed. Many family members and survivors wove the stories of their experiences and reactions as they moved forward in their new lives. A private showing of the movie was received with praise and gratitude from survivors and family members of those who died. The community was invited to see the film the following day and it again brought accolades.
I cannot stop thinking about the events of the past few days. I cannot stop thinking about the surviving families. Each person touched my spirit. My heart continues to be filled with tears – tears of admiration. They inspire me. They have refueled my commitment to do everything possible to end this violence once and for all. They have refueled my determination to see the day when there will be no more tears caused by drunk driving.
Today, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced several new recommendations related to drunk driving, one of which is to pursue a national .05 BAC per se limit.
MADD has worked for more than 20 years to create a single national BAC limit of .08. I remember standing in the Rose Garden when President Clinton signed this bipartisan legislation into law. The battle was hard fought and a victory we can be proud of. Reaching this consensus spawned the establishment of MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving in 2006.
We studied research and best practices to create a program that would save the most lives now, and in the future. With your help, the Campaign is recognized as the premier grassroots movement across the nation.
We have made great strides on all three Campaign initiatives:
- High visibility law enforcement—we support efforts of high visibility law enforcement events, such as Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over. These events are savings lives today based on actual data and not just projections
- Mandatory ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers—we have achieved amazing results in advocating for impactful ignition interlock laws. Together we have helped pass ignition interlock laws in every state, and MADD’s efforts to pass ignition interlock laws has resulted in over 100 million Americans who are now better protected in states requiring these devices for all convicted drunk drivers.
- Development of advanced technology—the development of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) is moving forward. Once complete, DADSS will stop a drunk driver with a BAC of .08 or higher from driving the car of tomorrow and will be no more intrusive than airbags.
In addition, in March, the U.S. Congress made good on its commitment to our Campaign by providing over $50 million for Campaign related activities, which includes doubling the budget for the DADSS program. Furthermore, every major traffic safety organization including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the NTSB, AAA, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, and the NFL now supports our Campaign. In short, it’s working.
This support is based on taking these lifesaving actions while maintaining a single national BAC standard. While lowering the standard could reduce fatalities, that benefit would be many years in the future. More importantly, pursuing it would distract from current initiatives that are saving even more lives today!
MADD continues to recommend that the safest course of action is never to drink and drive. In addition, we are committed to serving all victims of substance impaired driving regardless of impairment levels. MADD’s 1-877-MADD-Help Line is available 24 hours a day. MADD serves an impaired driving victim every eight minutes and this will continue until our Campaign is complete and there are no more DUI victims.
We have a thoughtful plan that we believe can eliminate drunk driving entirely. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety believes that ignition interlock laws for all offenders could save 1,000 lives per year and that DADSS could save 7,000 lives per year. This is our goal and a key part of our mission. Let’s stay focused, save the most lives we can now, and eliminate drunk driving as soon as possible.
As always, thanks for all you do to support MADD’s mission. Your dedicated efforts inspire me every day.
MADD National President