(ATLANTA, GA) – On Tuesday, February 26, 2019 Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) victims, survivors, volunteers, staff, and community partners gathered at the Georgia State Capitol for MADD Georgia’s annual legislative day and a press conference to highlight the continued increase in drunk driving deaths in Georgia. Drunk driving remains the #1 cause of death on our roadways in the United States.
MADD victims, survivors, and volunteers spent the day at the Georgia Capitol meeting with state legislators to advocate for improvements to Georgia’s current drunk driving ignition interlock law.
Helen Witty, the National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, testified before Georgia’s House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee in support of an all-offender ignition interlock bill in the morning session.
Ignition interlocks are devices about the size of a cell phone that are wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A convicted drunk driver must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. If the driver has a measurable amount of alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start. Compared to license suspension alone, ignition interlocks are effective in reducing repeat drunk driving offenses by 67 percent while the device is installed (CDC). For more information about ignition interlocks, please visit www.madd.org/interlock.
Interlocks are already working to stop drunk driving in Georgia, but the law is not reaching every eligible drunk driver. Over the past 12 years, interlocks have prevented over 35,496 attempts to drive drunk in Georgia, including 4,339 in 2018 alone. Can you imagine how many more attempts to drive drunk will be stopped by enacting an all-offender interlock law?
MADD National President Helen Witty touched on all of these points during MADD’s press conference in the South Wing of the Georgia State Capitol. “For almost two decades, I have walked alongside families whose lives have been shattered by someone else’s decision to drive after drinking,” President Witty stated. “I have watched victims struggle with the kind of sorrow that you think will kill you.” She shared her story of losing her 16-year old daughter, Helen Marie, to a drunk and drugged driver. In discussing the potential of a Georgia all-offender ignition interlock law, Witty stated that “MADD believes this the number one solution to remedy a recent court ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court that says refusing a breath test cannot be used as DUI evidence. This is the third ruling in as many years that has chipped away at Georgia’s drunk driving laws and put the rights of drunk drivers ahead of public safety and the victims of these horrific crimes.”
Senator Donzella James, an advocate for MADD for over 20 years and MADD mom, spoke of the loss of her son Kerry: “He was going to the store for one of the elderly people that lived on our street and he left, and he never came back home alive again.” Her son Kerry was killed by a drunk driver that had 5 previous DUIs. “I have worked to turn that tragedy into a blessing for other families…I was already a mother against drunk driving, I had no idea that Kerry would end up being a statistic.” Senator Donzella James was Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Legislator of the Year in 2013.
State Representative Steven Sainz (District 180) spoke of his experience as a Deputy Sheriff in Camden County. He expressed his support for future interlock legislation in Georgia, and thanked those in attendance for their efforts for advocating on behalf of those who lost their lives or were injured by drunk and drugged driving crashes, along with their efforts to prevent families from being affected in the future by these senseless and preventable tragedies.
Natasha Mitchell, MADD Georgia volunteer, represented MADD Georgia’s State Advisory Board and thanked victims, survivors, families, friends, and community partners for attending MADD Georgia’s Under the Dome Day events. She held a moment of silence to honor those who lost their lives on Georgia’s roadways to drunk and drugged driving. “Today as we gather here at the State Capitol, I stand before you with purpose,” she began, “this is a time to highlight victim families, to honor those who have been lost and the lives forever changed.”
She spoke of all of the attempts to drive drunk in Georgia that ignition interlocks prevented over recent years. Natasha lost her son, Michael, to the actions of a drunk and drugged driver in 2012. “My son Michael was full of life. He was energetic, he was loving – I still get calls and messages from his friends just letting me know how much they still miss him and how much of a hole in their lives his loss has left.” Natasha spoke of the need for Georgia to be a state at the forefront of DUI prevention by enacting ignition interlock laws to prevent people from getting behind the wheel and endangering lives.
MADD Volunteer Lisa Gilmer also shared her story of losing her 16-year-old daughter Hannah in a drunk driving crash in 2012. Hannah was a passenger in a vehicle driven by an underage drunk driver who had a previous DUI on his record. Lisa has been a passionate speaker for MADD Georgia in Columbus and surrounding regions sharing Hannah’s story and the impact her loss has had on their family to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving. She held a framed photograph of Hannah during the entire press conference.
Jeana Fortenberry was the final MADD Georgia volunteer speaker, sharing the story of losing her mother, Avannah, and her mother’s best friend, Gladys, in a crash in Elijay that also seriously injured her brother Don. While Jeana spoke of how the losses and injuries affected their families, her sister Lesa Romeo held photographs of Avannah, Gladys, and Don. Both Jeana and Lesa have volunteered for MADD Georgia for years, sharing their stories at MADD Victim Impact Panels to try and prevent future occurrences of drunk driving.
The Georgia State Office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is grateful to all volunteers, victims, families, and community partners that attended Tuesday’s Under the Dome Day activities, from meeting with their legislators to attending MADD’s press conference. MADD could not continue its live saving work to create a future of No More Victims® without their help.
Please know that if you are a victim of drunk or drugged driving, MADD is always available to help through MADD’s 24-Hour Victim Helpline at 877-MADD-HELP. A Victim Services Specialist at MADD Georgia is available from 9am – 5pm, Monday through Friday by calling 770-615-3737.
To get more involved and volunteer with MADD Georgia, please visit www.madd.org/volunteer.