To the American Judges Association and the American Bar Association (ABA):
Since MADD’S founding in 1980, we have reduced drunk driving fatalities by half and saved nearly 380,000 lives. We have done that by focusing on changing social norms through legislation and education. What was once a joke on late night television, is now considered unacceptable.
One important aspect of that societal shift is changing how we talk about the crime. MADD believes that drunk and drugged driving incidents are crashes not accidents because they are the result of choice, not chance. This seemingly insignificant change in lexicon reinforces that drunk and drugged driving are 100 percent preventable crimes, 100 percent of the time. In 1997, the Department of Transportation also stopped referring to drunk driving crashes as “accidents” and encouraged publications to do so as well, no doubt because of MADD’s fervent efforts to change the public perception of these violent crimes.
Unfortunately, the American Judges Association (AJA) recently published an article that described individuals that make the choice to drive impaired merely as, “social drinkers who went a little overboard. They’re not alcoholics or criminals. Most of the time they’ve done nothing dangerous, but have merely violated a law…” This is a clear mischaracterization of a crime that kills more than 10,000 people and injures another nearly 300,000 individuals per year.
We must be clear here. Drunk drivers violate the law. Drunk drivers commit a crime. If we are going to create a world with no more victims of these crimes, we must speak the same language. Drunk and drugged driving is a crime and one that is easily preventable.
Further compounding this issue, attorneys still commonly advertise using this improper language. Even those that seem to have victims’ best interests in mind inadvertently minimize this tragedy by calling this crime an accident at all stages of the process.
As such, we implore the American Judges Association and the American Bar Association to consider all drunk and drugged crashes a crime, not an accident, and to develop a section of ethics code for its members requesting they identify them as such.
MADD considers itself the voice of victims, remembering victims no longer with us, and honoring injured survivors who have been forever changed. The loss of life and limb – the injury to body and property – are all too real, and the trauma leaves an impact on lives that cannot continue to be minimized. Justice cannot be dispensed unless prosecutors, district attorneys and judges are willing to correctly identify the act of both drunk and drugged driving as the crimes they are.