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.

Passion and Persistence

I am very proud of my fellow MADD victim/survivors and victim advocates because we possess both the passion and persistence needed to make change.  Together we have done so very successfully, but we need to do more. I am calling on you once again to show your passion and persistence.

Yesterday, Representative Franks introduced a U.S. Constitutional Amendment for Victims’ Rights, H.J. Res 40.  Today, I am asking you to contact your Congresspersons to urge these elected officials to cosponsor and support this proposed amendment, H.J. Res 40.  

Over the past 20 years, I have held hands with and listened to thousands of victims.  During this time I have seen too many incidents where victims were denied their basic rights to be present at the hearing of their case, or to be able to tell the judge the effects this crime has had on their lives at sentencing.  Even though we have statutes in every state to protect the victims’ rights, there is a U.S. Constitutional Amendment supporting criminals’ rights, which frequently trumps the rights of victims.   And while many states have victims’ rights amendments, again, the Federal Constitution trumps those. 

H.J. Res 40 will give rights to victims. Please use your passion and persistence to help our fellow victims and survivors have their basic rights upheld in the criminal justice system. Take action now.

Parents are the Number One Influence on Teens’ Decisions about Alcohol

I frequently say that the only thing reliably predictable is that life is unpredictable!  However, always constant in my days, my thoughts, my heart and my spirit is this:  I miss my precious daughter, Alisa, so very much.  There is a perpetual longing that sits just under the surface.  Even though I live each day in a manner to honor her, it never quite eliminates the sorrow.

Alisa was 15 when she was killed by a 17-year-old driver who had been drinking. I know she was mindful of my expectations and the consequences of drinking before 21 and of riding in a car with someone who had been drinking.  She would express her dismay because I would not allow her, or her siblings, to attend parties or events where parents weren’t present and alcohol likely would be. But she knew it was because I loved her and wanted her to always be safe. 

As I look back on those days, I think about what more I could have done, or what I could have done differently to save her life—we parents do that.  I wish I had talked about alcohol more often with her…how I wish!  Thanks to Dr. Turrisi’s research and the information in MADD’s Power of Parents Handbook, we now know that parents having frequent and ongoing discussions about the dangers of underage drinking significantly reduce teens’ use of alcohol.  It is also important to have those conversations in a respectful manner.  Make sure our children know the reason that we have these expectations is because we love them and want them safe. 

Alisa knew how much I loved her.  She knew how much I respected her.  I did have conversations with her about our family values and expectations concerning drinking before 21.  But … perhaps if I talked about it more often – just perhaps – she would have made a different decision.  Perhaps she would have heard my voice in the back of her head and I could continue to hug and kiss her today.

April 21st is PowerTalk 21 day—the day set aside for us to talk with our children about the dangers of drinking before the age of 21.  Since the studies show that 74% of teens say their parents are the number one influence on their decisions about alcohol, I encourage every parent to discuss it frequently with your children.  Even when they roll their eyes… even when they whine, “I know, I know, Mom.”  I sure wish I had the opportunity to see Alisa roll her eyes at me now.  How I would grin, because that would tell me she heard me! 


In Our Hearts

On a TV show I watched recently, a young woman was clinging to a pink felt heart.  Her friend pointed to it and asked, “What’s this about?” The woman responded, “It was sewn on a teddy bear that I carried around everywhere when I was a child.  I never let go of that bear.  I finally wore it out, and this heart is all I have left,” she replied.  He very gently responded, “You have the best part.”  He then pulled a tiny piece of paper from his wallet.  It was from a Chinese fortune cookie she had given him the first time they met.  On it was written, “Today’s new friend is tomorrow’s family.”

This month, many of us whose loved ones were killed by impaired driving will pull out Valentine cards that are now—like my heart’s feelings—a little tattered around the edges.  My eyes often fill with tears as I think, “this is all I have left of Alisa.  I want more.” 

But then, Alisa’s lovely spirit tiptoes to the front of my heart.  You see I carry her in my heart, everywhere I go.  She has always been there—before she was born, to the time that she danced around us on this earth, and even now when her beautiful spirit lives in my heart, as it does in so many others.  I never let go of that girl.

On Valentine’s Day—and every day—remember that our loved ones live on in our heart.  In our hearts… that’s the best place, now.   I am so grateful for all of the gifts Alisa continues to give me, and I am sure that your loved ones fill your heart with gifts of love, too.  May your Valentine’s Day give you warm moments of lovely memories. 

Each of us connects to MADD for our own reasons, and so we are connected to one another.  I cherish our bond as I cherish every one of you.   On this Valentine’s Day, whether or not we have met in person, I thank you for being in my life. Today’s new friend is tomorrow’s family.  How true that is. 


U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Stepping Down

MADD is extremely grateful for Secretary LaHood’s leadership and his commitment to issues of highway safety during his time in office. He has truly been a leader in drunk driving prevention by supporting MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving and demonstrating a willingness to find long-term solutions to drunk driving, such as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS). I have had the pleasure of working with Secretary LaHood on numerous occasions, and he is always a tireless advocate for saving lives and preventing injuries on our nation’s roadways. We wish him continued success and happiness in the future, and we look forward to working closely with his successor to make our roads safer for American families.

 David Strickland, Jan Withers and Ray LaHood

A Season to Celebrate

Happy Holidays!

This holiday season, I am celebrating my wonderful family and friends, and the incredible progress we've made together this year.  For the first time in history, drunk driving deaths have fallen below 10,000, and we could not have done that without your help—your support, your donations, your time spent volunteering, your emails and phone calls to legislators, your participation in Walk Like MADD and other events, and even your Facebook shares and re-tweets!

To show my thanks, I want to share with you a special Holiday video message.

Thanks to you, each year we save more lives, serve more victims and bring awareness to the dangers of drunk driving and underage drinking.

We know that there is still much work to be done and we won’t stop until there are no more drunk driving deaths.  I hope that you’ll stand with us until we achieve that goal.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all that you do for MADD, and happy holidays!


Jan Withers
MADD National President

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