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.

Dateline Holiday Episode

Words to describe the taping experience for the holiday episode of Dateline NBC are as varied as the subjects on the show.   Three groups of people took part in three scenarios.  They were everyday folks, under the impression that they were there to rate holiday treats, wines and decorations, which they did.  Andrea Canning, the NBC correspondent, gave the participants instructions, and then left the room for about 10 minutes, so they could confer privately on their ratings. 

Jan watches the hidden camera footage with Dateline’s correspondent and producer.

Among the group were two actors, one of whom was charged with guzzling the wine (his bottle really contained grape juice) and acting drunk.  

When Andrea rejoined the group, she invited them to return to their chauffeured vehicles and travel on to another venue where they would do some more sampling and rating.  Of course, the actor pretending to be impaired announced he would take his own car.

Participants were surrounded by cameras with Andrea in the room, but after she left, they thought they were “alone.”  However, cameras were still watching, hidden in the ice bucket, the lamp, the microwave oven, and at various spots in the parking lot.  Would these adults stop this person who was obviously impaired from getting behind the wheel?    

I observed with fascination in a side room, listening to their concerns and debates.   After each scenario was complete, Andrea would ask them why they made the decisions they did.  Then I was invited to join them and share with them my observations and some tips for handling this type of situation in the future.

My own reactions from behind the curtain shocked me.  At some points, I was fighting tears of discouragement.  Soon thereafter, I was again filled with tears, this time of hope and pride – more precisely, pride in my fellow womankind.   The evening was a rollercoaster of emotions.  The evening was entertaining.  The evening was enlightening.  The evening was energizing. 

I encourage you to tune in and let me know what you think!  


Twenty-six years of Tie One On For Safety®

This is the time of year when more people are on the roads and incidents of drunk  driving increase.   That’s why MADD’s annual Tie One On For Safety campaign, now in its 26th year, encourages people to tie a red ribbon on their car, or attach a red ribbon magnet or window decal in a visible place on the vehicle, in an effort to remind everyone to drive safe, sober and buckled up.

I remember clearly the very first thing I did as a local MADD volunteer.  It was only about six months after my daughter, Alisa, was killed by a drunk driver.  I wanted to do “something” to make a difference and give back to MADD, and to show my gratitude for the unwavering support they had given me.  The director of my local MADD office knew my grief was still very raw, so she gently asked if I would mind helping distribute red ribbons.  My family and I literally took thousands of MADD red ribbons and stapled them to cards with information about MADD. It was so therapeutic to know we were doing “something” to make a difference.

All the schools in the area were requesting ribbons that would be given to students to take home, so their parents could tie them on their car antennae.  Back in the MADD office, several volunteers and I counted and packaged the ribbons into brown bags, 500 per bag.   We then stuffed our cars to the ceiling with these bags, took our trusty maps and delivered them to the schools.  It was quite an undertaking.

That awareness was invaluable for our children.  Even before Alisa was killed, I remember my children bringing the MADD red ribbons home from school during this time of year.   Let me tell you, if I didn’t get that red ribbon on the car as soon as they thought I should, my children certainly let me know about it.  Luckily, I had three school-aged children, because when the ribbon became frayed from the weather, I had two more!  

Today, I look at my car and wonder where I could possibly tie a ribbon… but thank goodness for magnets and window decals!   They are still a very visual reminder for all of us to drive sober.

I hope you will contact your local MADD office to get a red ribbon, magnet or window decal for your vehicle, to remind everyone to drive safe, sober and buckled up this holiday season.

Click here to learn how you can to participate Tie One On For Safety.

A Season to be Thankful

Thanksgiving is Thursday (I can’t believe 2012 is already coming to an end!), and this year there are so many things I’m thankful for — like my family, my friends and MADD. I’m thankful for a way to honor my daughter, Alisa Joy, each and every day through my work with MADD. I’m thankful that after all of this time, I can see a future without drunk driving.

I’m also thankful for you. Your time, money and support of MADD’s mission has helped us save almost 300,000 lives and serve more than 300,000 victims and survivors… and counting.

While it felt like a whirlwind to me, we’ve done some amazing things together this year — our MADD family helped pass stronger ignition interlock laws in several states, served one victim of drunk driving every eight minutes, and assembled a Power of You(th)™ Teen Influencer Group that helped us create a teen booklet to help prevent underage drinking.

So, thank you for your support — we could not make such important change in the world without committed supporters like you.

Wishing you a warm, safe and happy Thanksgiving, from all of the MADD volunteers, staff and board members!

Sharing Their Stories to Save Lives

During MADD’s National Conference a couple weeks ago, I had the privilege to spend time with Leo and Janice McCarthy.  Leo has been honored as a 2012 Top 10 CNN Hero for starting Mariah's Challenge in honor of their 14-year-old daughter, Mariah, who was killed by a drunk driver as she was walking home.

I also got to see Melissa Stegner, who entered my life at MADD's Teen Influencer Summit this summer, and so eloquently spoke at our conference.   Her quiet graciousness complements her fortitude and passion in speaking out against drinking and driving, as well as underage drinking.   She describes herself as shy, but musters the strength to work at this prevention because her father and older brother were killed by a drunk driver.

I invite you to read the beautiful article, What sways teens not to drink, drive? Stories, not stats, highlighting both of these amazing individuals.

You can also click here to vote for Leo McCarthy to become the CNN Hero of the Year.

MADD National Conference: Steps on Capitol Hill

Today, as part of the 2012 Mothers Against Drunk Driving National Conference, more than 300 drunk driving crash victims and survivors, MADD volunteers and supporters from across the country are gathered at the U.S. Capitol for legislative meetings to urge Congressional action on two important measures: full funding for priority highway safety programs, and passage of a Constitutional Amendment providing for crime victims’ rights.

Click here to read the press release for more information.


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