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.

I’m a Mom for DADSS

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the lab where they are researching the end of drunk driving.  And once again, I became a mom for DADSS.

Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, DADSS for short, is our hope for the future to ELIMINATE drunk driving.  Two prototypes of advanced technology are being studied. One is touched-based and one is breath-based.

While more research needs to be done, both technologies are working toward the goal of accurately and precisely detecting how much alcohol is in the driver’s system. In all 50 states, a legally drunk driver—someone with a .08 BAC or higher—would not be able to operate the vehicle if this technology comes to fruition.

This is exciting, but more importantly, it is happening.  DADSS has surpassed expectations and has entered into phase two of research.  We will see this in our lifetime and I got to see it with my own eyes.

Unfortunately, current funding for this research program will end in 2013, but I have worked with our public policy team in Washington to include funding for DADSS in the new Senate transportation bill.  We now look to the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to also support the funding as the bill moves forward.  If the House does not act, the future of DADSS will be unclear. To me, that means thousands of people will die at the hands of drunk drivers before Congress sees fit to protect us by funding this research again.   

Congressman Mica is Chairman of this committee.  Please click here and ask your member of congress to tell Chairman Mica to agree with the Senate and fund DADSS research in the next highway bill. 

DADSS has the potential to eliminate drunk driving in America.  We must do everything we can to ensure this project receives funding for phase three.

MADD's Board of Directors and Senior Leadership touring the DADSS research facility.



My Experience at the NTSB Forum

I thank the National Transportation Safety Board for holding their important forum, “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Substance-Impaired Driving.”  This highly regarded board realizes their “Most Wanted List” is outdated.   They intend to take the information presented in the forum, study the research, and then update their recommendations.   JT Griffin, MADD VP of Public Policy, presented powerful testimony on research that is the foundation for our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving.  I was honored to represent the thousands of individuals victimized by impaired driving. 

It was reaffirming to hear esteemed researchers as well as representatives from organizations such as National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Governors Highway Safety Administration, and AAA, echo MADD’s recommendations.  Specialists from around the world substantiated our course of action to eliminate drunk driving.

I drove home heartened by the comments and questions of Board members.  They are dedicated to becoming an effective part of the solution so America can reach that beautiful zero number…or….eliminate impaired driving.  Member Sumwalt summarized that “there really are a lot of dedicated people working on this and there is no one magic bullet.  Impaired driving is a crime.  We need to focus on all impaired driving, not just hard core drunk drivers.   We need a combination of our laws being certain, swift and severe, along with education, visible enforcemMy ent, and prevalent use of current technology and advanced technology that will be available down the road.  DUI checkpoints are effective and we would like to see them implemented much more.” 

Chairman Hersman asked the one question that deeply touched my heart.  “Why are deaths by impaired driving not treated the same as death by other crimes?”  Thank you, Chairman.   The fact that we hear the impaired driver didn’t “intend” to kill someone is no longer reasonable.   Drinking and then driving is still accepted as part of our society instead of being treated as the violent crime it is.  It is an intentional choice for a person to drive after they have been drinking. Part of the definition of second degree murder is that the offender knew their intended action could result in a death, even if they did not pre-plan to kill anyone.    

Today in Maryland, a common sentence for vehicular manslaughter is 18 months.  I carried intense anger toward society’s attitude because of this very issue.  The person who killed my daughter received a sentence of 28 days work-release, plus community service as part of his probation.  I eventually realized I needed to release that anger and use it to focus on making positive change.  

Member Sumwalt was inspired to conclude with: “I want this to be a springboard for the problem.  I want to really charge out of here and work together to solve this problem.”   My reply:  “Fantastic!  Welcome aboard! We have been doing it since we began our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® 6 years ago.  We are so glad you are joining us!”  Thank you Chairman Hersman and Member Rosekind for leading the charge in NTSB.  

Looking forward to a future with no more impaired driving,  
Jan Withers
MADD National President    

Mother's Day Wishes

This year marks the 20th Mother’s Day since I lost my daughter Alisa Joy. The best gift a mother can have is to be with her children on this special day. In the early years after her death, I struggled with her absence, even as I was loved by my remaining family. But gradually, the realization came to me that I was still her mother and no one could take that from me. I still miss her, but she is forever in my heart. She is, and will always be my Joy.

Life is like an onion and we’re always peeling back a new layer.  One of Alisa’s close friends, Leana, called me on this year’s anniversary of her death just last month. Like Alisa would be, she is now a thirty-five and has a baby of her own. While it is bittersweet because I miss the grandchildren that Alisa might have given me, I treasure that her friends still share their lives and families with me. In this case, Leana shared that how as a new mother she had gained perspective on how Alisa’s loss had affected me.   Somehow this cycle of life comforts me because even though I can’t touch her, Alisa is still part of that cycle and part of me.    

For mothers whose child has been killed by a drunk driver, Mother’s Day can be especially painful.  If we have other children, it is a day filled with bittersweet emotions.  The gratitude we feel for the beautiful gift of sharing life with our surviving children is joyful.  At the same time, the longing for our deceased child is an agony that constantly tugs at our hearts.  My friends who have no surviving children tell me they feel a deep emptiness on Mother’s Day.

Yet, love never dies.  All of us are grateful for the precious time we were given with our children who have died.  I send wishes to every mother for a day filled with warm memories, special moments and peaceful joys.  Love lives forever

Jan Withers

The Ultimate Crash Avoidance System

Today, Jan Withers wrote a blog for The Hill's Congress blog about the DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety) program, titled: The Ultimate Crash Avoidance System.  In the blog, Jan explains the DADSS program, how the technology works and why it is needed.

“Ignition interlocks now, supplemented by DADSS in the future, can take drunk driving from the front pages to the history books. While Congress disagrees on much, everyone can agree that eliminating drunk driving is a worthy goal, both in terms of human lives and cost savings. The potential return on investing $12 million per year to solve a $132 billion per year problem is a no brainer. MAP-21 sets the stage for the elimination of drunk driving. My goal—both personally and as MADD’s National President –is for there to be a day when there are no more victims of drunk driving.”

Read the full blog post here on thehill.com or read more about Jan Wither’s experience with DADSS from a blog about her trip to the DADSS laboratory.  You can also learn more about the progress DADSS has made.

DADSS was also recently featured in the article, After the Party, a Car That Takes Away Your Keys, on the Wall Street Journal Online.  The first line of the article says, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk. In the future, your car could be that friend."  Read more of this article from the Wall Street Journal.

Powerful Program, Powerful People

MADD Florida Executive Director, David Pinsker, arranged for MADD to appear on Lifetime TV's morning show, The Balancing Act.  MADD’s Power of Parents® program was center stage.  The show will air in April (we will keep you posted with more information). 

Balancing Act
Balancing Act Host Danielle Knox, Jan Withers, President of MADD,
and Ken Griffith, President of National Assoc. of Secondary School Principals

Dave has only been Executive Director for a few months, but has already proven to be a powerful advocate, jumping in “on all four” with all his energy and skills to support MADD’s mission.  We are so pleased he is with us. 

The other powerful people with whom Dorene Ocamb, the National Marketing Director, and I met are the MADD Broward County staff members.  These women exude a passionate concern for supporting victims and a passionate dedication to saving lives.

Powerful people
Sally Matson, Helen Witty, Dorene Ocamb, Janet Mondshein and Jan Withers

April 21st is PowerTalk21® day—the national day for parents to talk with their teens about the dangers of underage drinking.  However, we don’t want that to be the only time to have the discussion.  The power comes from positive, frequent discussions with our children, sharing expectations and consequences, because we love them and want them to always be safe. 

Three out of four teens say that their parents are the number one influence about alcohol use.  We not only have the responsibility to have these discussions with our children, we have the power to influence their decisions.

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