MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church

This time of year brings the beginning of the holidays and all the traditions that children love the most —  Halloween and its sweet treats, families gathered around the table for a Thanksgiving feast and presents stacked neatly under a decorated tree. It’s a time for family and a time to remember the wonderment we all felt as children. A time to hug our children a little closer.

Children are our most precious resource and they count on us for love and protection. Sadly, we are losing too many kids in drunk driving crashes. Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of death among our nation’s children. And more than half of children killed in drunk driving crashes are killed by their own drinking driver.

Children don’t have a voice or a choice when riding with an adult, and they should never be in danger from drunk driving, especially by those entrusted to keep them safe.

Earlier this year, MADD convened a panel of experts to find ways to help stop these tragedies. I was honored to be a part of that panel, and I am proud of the results. MADD recently completed a Child Endangerment Report that can be found here.

Among the recommendations:

  • Adoption of New York’s Leandra’s Law as a model for state statutes
  • Mandatory ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders
  • Require prosecutors to submit a formal finding when dismissing a case
  • Mandatory reporting of arrests and use of a central database
  • Laws that penalize for refusing an alcohol test
  • Recognize child endangerment as abuse and require Child Protective Service agency notification
  • Mandatory provision in custody agreements that prohibits drunk driving endangerment with sanctions

All of these recommendations were drawn from the devastating losses of children across America. Leandra’s Law is named for Leandra Rosado, an 11-year-old who was killed on Oct. 11, 2009 in New York City when her friend’s mother drove drunk and crashed the car in which Leandra was a passenger. The panel benefitted tremendously from fellow panel member Carl McDonald, whose only child, 5-year-old Carlie McDonald, was killed while riding as a passenger with a drunk driver on New Year’s Day, 1998.

These tragedies inspire MADD to work harder to make needed changes to protect our children. We must pass laws that add penalties for anyone who drives under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a child in the vehicle. Currently, only seven states make drunk driving with a child passenger a felony in crashes that do not involve injuries. That’s not good enough.

Child endangerment is not only unconscionable, it’s a crime. It is child abuse. Regular sanctions and treatment alone are not enough to stop this reckless behavior.

MADD stands ready to help pass child endangerment laws in all 50 states. In order for this to happen everyone must play a role in advocating for this important change.

We must remember — during these festivity-filled holidays and every day — that every child deserves a designated driver.