Victim survivor and volunteer urges reforms while preserving critical work to end drunk driving
Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Survivor and Volunteer Michelle Ramsey Hawkins called on federal lawmakers today to support reforms that would address racial inequities in traffic safety enforcement while preserving the critically important work conducted by law enforcement to keep roads safe.
“Efforts to ensure that enforcement is fair and just must be paramount,” Hawkins testified before a House Transportation Subcommittee hearing on Examining Equity in Transportation Safety Enforcement. “We know that Black and Hispanic drivers are disproportionately stopped and disproportionately searched compared to white drivers. We know that Black and Hispanic drivers are stopped at a greater rate for equipment violations and administrative offenses compared to white drivers. But there is little evidence to support a claim that Black and Hispanic drivers more frequently commit these offenses.”
When traffic enforcement is primarily focused on hazardous driving behaviors, however, racial and ethnic disparities decrease significantly, said Hawkins, a Black woman who lost her two Black sons to a violent, preventable traffic crash due to drunk driving.
Hawkins applauded the Committee for its leadership to address disparities in enforcement practices through The Moving Forward Act that passed in the House last Congress. Among the provisions MADD supports are a grant program to prohibit racial profiling; implicit bias research and training grants; and national priority safety programs that encourage states to include training for police officers and drivers on rights, responsibilities and best practices during traffic stops.
MADD has long supported law enforcement as part of its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving and works closely with law enforcement officers around the country supporting high-visibility enforcement efforts, such as sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols.
“Without traffic safety enforcement, and the dedication of police officers, traffic fatalities and injuries would increase exponentially,” Hawkins said. “Simultaneously, MADD recognizes the need for reform.”
On the night of April 10, 2016, two drunk drivers changed Hawkins’ and her family’s lives forever. Hawkins and her children, 15-year-old Kaylee, 6-year-old Khaiden, and 4-year-old Samuel, were on their way home from a housewarming party when they struck a trash compactor in the middle of a dark Louisiana highway. A minute earlier, the compactor had fallen out of the back of a pickup. The pickup’s driver, who was drunk and had two previous DUI convictions, kept going.
Hawkins pulled to the side of the road, got her children out of the car and called law enforcement and her parents to come pick up the kids while she waited for a tow truck. Khaiden and Samuel were standing in a grassy area off the road, holding their sister’s hands, when a second drunk driver, with a blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit, crashed through orange safety triangles set out by two good Samaritans who’d come out of their home to help. The drunk driver hit another car, which struck Hawkins, before running off the road and slamming into her three children and a teenage neighbor.
When Hawkins came to, she was lying in the grass; she heard her daughter’s cries and understood the absence of her sons’. Khaiden and Samuel were killed instantly. Five years later, the teenage neighbor is still recovering from his injuries and will never again be the same.
In the aftermath of her sons’ deaths, the media accused Hawkins of having her children in the road the night of the crash and therefore responsible for their deaths. “As a Black mother, that’s what I endured during the worst moments of my life,” she said.
“When my boys were taken from me in such a senseless manner, it felt like they didn’t matter. And it felt like I had to prove that they did,” Hawkins, a social worker, testified. “I understand what it feels like to live daily with inequities.”
While her family had resources to work within the justice system, as well as the support of MADD and a victim services specialist who stood with them at every court appearance, Hawkins said she thinks about other families from communities of color without those resources – and how the system would have treated them.
But, Hawkins said, “fair and just enforcement is achievable. Our national conversation surrounding racial inequity is bringing more stakeholders to the table. Research and hard data are now being used to identify what the problems are, where problems exist, and what solutions can be employed to do better. Best practices are being identified and implemented. Organizations and individuals are recognizing that we all must be part of the solution.”
About Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Founded in 1980 by a mother whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Mothers Against Drunk Driving® (MADD) is the nation’s largest nonprofit working to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes and prevent underage drinking. MADD has helped to save more than 390,000 lives, reduce drunk driving deaths by more than 50 percent and promote designating a non-drinking driver. MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® calls for law enforcement support, ignition interlocks for all offenders and advanced vehicle technology. MADD has provided supportive services to nearly one million drunk and drugged driving victims and survivors at no charge through local victim advocates and the 24-Hour Victim Help Line 1-877-MADD-HELP. Visit www.madd.org or call 1-877-ASK-MADD.