Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) History

511 East John Carpenter Freeway
Suite 700
Irving, Texas 75062-8187

Telephone: (214) 744-6233
Toll Free: 800-GET-MADD

Nonprofit Organization
Incorporated: 1980
Employees: 350
Operating Revenues: $50.22 million (2001)
NAIC: 813319 Other Social Advocacy Organizations; 813940 Political Organizations

Company Perspectives:

The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime, and prevent underage drinking.

Key Dates:

Candy Lightner starts MADD after her daughter is killed in a motor vehicle accident involving a drunk driver.
MADD relocates its headquarters to Texas.
The legal drinking age is raised to 21 in the United States.
Lightner leaves MADD.
MADD expands its mission to take on underage drinking.
A blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08 percent is adopted as the federal drunk driving standard.
MADD updates its logo.

Company History:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been called America's most-liked charity, though its familiar acronym suggests the rage that prompted its formation in 1980. The group's traditional mission has been to fight what MADD national president Millie Webb has called "the most frequently committed violent crime in the nation"--drunk driving injuries and deaths. In its first two decades, the organization has been credited with fostering a profound reduction in the number of alcohol-related fatalities. Along the way, it changed an entire society's attitude towards driving under the influence (DUI) and introduced terms like "designated driver" into the lexicon. MADD continues to work to lower number of drunk driving deaths, and it has expanded its mission to include prevention of underage drinking.


In May 1980, 13-year-old Cari Lightner was killed by a drunk driver as she walked on the sidewalk in her suburban Sacramento neighborhood. The driver, Clarence William Busch, did not stop, but when he was apprehended he was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.20 percent--and previous drunk-driving convictions. He was, in fact, out on bail for a similar hit-and-run.

Cari Lightner left behind two sisters, one of them her twin. The Lightners' story was horrifying but not unique--there were 27,000 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States that year, 2,500 of them in California. However, in this case, the girl's mother, Candace Lightner, a real estate agent, used her grief to fuel a new grassroots organization dedicated to reshaping the public's perception of drunk driving.

The name of the new group and the date of incorporation were borrowed from family members. Her sister suggested calling the group Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, or MADD. The Guardian of Manchester, England, among others, noted the gender implications. The feminine aspect of the title was an entirely accurate statement of feminine anger against the chiefly male perpetrators, who included the lawyers and judges that coddled this behavior. MADD's mission was to convince society that driving under the influence was a serious crime, and the devastating results of the decision to drive under the influence were not "accidents."

As for the date of incorporation, September 5, 1980--that would have been Cari Lightner's 14th birthday. The Guardian also noted the political implications of the word "Mother"--as American as apple pie. Still, the first couple of months were slow going. Later that fall, Lightner persuaded California governor Jerry Brown to set up a task force. Two years later, a presidential commission was formed which recommended raising the minimum drinking age to 21 and revoking the license of drunk drivers.

MADD was not the first organization of its kind in the United States--RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers) had been formed in 1978--but it soon proved to be the most influential. It had chapters in 31 states by 1982. MADD's members, typically parents who had lost children to drunk driving accidents, testified before lawmakers. MADD's pitch focused on these innocent children, and the media was sympathetic. In fact, Lightner's own story was told in a made-for-TV movie on NBC in 1983. The same year, MADD forged an alliance with Anheuser-Busch to promote the then-novel concept of responsible drinking. The group was clearly making big waves in the beverage industry.

Drinking Age Raised to 21 in 1984

MADD relocated its national headquarters to a suburb of Dallas, Texas, in 1983. An important name change took place in 1984, when the group began calling itself Mothers Against Drunk Driving. That year, the group saw passage of a new federal law that raised the drinking age to 21.

In 1985, Lon G. von Hurwitz produced the public-service video "Don't Drive Drunk" starring Stevie Wonder. A follow-up featured Aretha Franklin. Hurwitz would become the organization's chairman in 1993. Also in 1985, founder Candace Lightner and the organization she founded parted ways due to disagreements with the MADD board.

By this time, MADD had 650,000 members in 47 states. About the same time as the U.S. organization was gathering steam, a number of anti-drunk driving groups were springing up in Canada, including PRIDE (People to Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) in Ontario, PAID in Alberta, and CAID in Manitoba. PRIDE became MADD Canada in 1990.

Fighting for 0.08 in the 1990s

Revenues, largely achieved through telemarketing, were about $50 million in 1990. The group set up a 900 number to support its "Strike Against Drunk Driving" program for league bowlers. Probably the most visible effort was the Red Ribbon campaign, which asked motorists to show support for responsible drinking behavior during the holidays by tying ribbons to their car antennas.

In the early 1990s, MADD began a long campaign to lower the nation's blood alcohol level (BAC) from 0.10 to 0.08, or 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood. This was the difference between four or five drinks in an hour for the average-sized person, according to a MADD spokesman.

By 1992, 41 states and the District of Columbia had adopted a BAC of 0.10 as the legal measure of intoxication. Five states had already adopted the lower 0.08 limit; MADD lobbyists had persuaded Congress to link federal highway grants to states' acceptance of the lower limit.

The lower limit met with resistance from the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which quoted statistics from Maine that suggested most drunk driving deaths occurred above the 0.10 standard and that only a tiny fraction of heavy drinkers on the road were arrested, reported Restaurant Hospitality. Naturally, the restaurant industry worried about the implications of a lower BAC for highly profitable wine sales.

MADD president Milo Kirk countered that the state of California had reduced alcohol-related deaths 15 percent in one year after going to a 0.08 BAC and implementing a few other measures such as high publicity and strict enforcement.

In 1993, MADD financed an infomercial that brought together some of Hollywood's top talents in a retrospective chronicling the depiction of drunk driving in film. In It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart's drunken character wrecked into a tree without censure. By the early 1990s, attitudes had matured; designated drivers were appearing in movies, and the MADD tagline "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" was uttered in the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. The well-known film critic team Siskel & Ebert hosted the program.

In early 1994, MADD founder Candace Lightner began working for the Berman & Co. lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the American Beverage Institute. Her mission: persuading states not to lower their legal drunk driving standard to 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content. Both Lightner and MADD's then-president Beckie Brown downplayed the apparent conflict of interest, saying they merely disagreed on the 0.08 issue. Others, however, saw her as a traitor to the cause.

By the mid-1990s, MADD was considered America's most-loved charity by one survey. Alcohol-related traffic deaths had fallen 40 percent in the 15 years since MADD was founded. However, there was trouble in Texas, as local chapters battled the national office over the way money was raised and spent. The national office lost $1 million on a botched grocery store coupon book giveaway in 1991, reported the Wall Street Journal. The Las Vegas chapter disbanded to form a rival group, Stop DUI, after a disastrous $50,000 telemarketing campaign that netted the unit just one dollar and some change.

Nationwide revenues fell 22 percent, to $40 million, in fiscal 1993, leading to a desperate shortfall for the head office. A telemarketing blitz raised revenues to $47.7 million in fiscal 1994, but the $1 million deficit nearly tripled. MADD's national office responded by cutting costs and also garnishing $1.3 million in future telemarketing earnings from several states. The Michigan office filed a lawsuit to prevent this in February 1995.

Taking On Teens in 1996

In 1996, MADD claimed 3.2 million members and 500 chapters. Towards the end of the year, it reported a depressing statistic: after ten years of decreases, the number of alcohol-related highway deaths in the United States rose by 4 percent in 1995, to 17,274.

MADD shifted its focus to fighting underage drinking. The group produced a $250,000 video and slide show called "Take the Lead" that it presented in high schools. U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co.'s USF&G Foundation footed the bill for the production.

MADD and other child advocates pressured Anheuser-Busch to take its talking frog commercials off the air, claiming they appealed to children. The organization had launched its first major attack on alcohol advertising three years earlier, when national president Becky Brown warned industry advertisers against using "celebrities, music stars, athletes, animals, cartoon characters, or other language or images that have special appeal to youth."

Tie maker Stonehenge Limited teamed with MADD in 1997 to produce a range of neckties intended to serve as alcohol awareness reminders. They were decorated with reproductions of the molecular structures of various cocktails as seen under a microscope.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA), MADD's longtime lobbying opponent, was its partner in a 1997 designated driver effort. Another sponsor of the campaign was AAMCO Transmissions, which placed promotions inside restaurants using such taglines as "Designate a Driver, Not a Beneficiary." The NRA continued to oppose MADD's efforts to lower the legal intoxication limit to 0.08 percent, however.

The Labor Day weekend was traditionally the most deadly time of year relating to drunk driving incidents in the United States. During this period in 1997, 250 people were killed by drunk drivers; these were mourned in national advertising that also noted a high-profile loss overseas: the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, whose driver had been profoundly intoxicated.

20 in 2000

At the time of MADD's 20th anniversary in 2000, alcohol-related traffic fatalities had dropped 40 percent in two decades. That was still 16,000 too many needless deaths for the group, which set a goal of lowering the number to 11,000 by 2005. MADD won a major victory when, late in 2000, the Clinton administration passed a law tying federal highway funds to states' adoption of the 0.08 blood alcohol content standard. States with the toughest drunk driving laws were beginning to treat drunk driving accidents as murder--even first-degree murder, in one North Carolina case.

In 2001, MADD found new support for its decade-long fight to persuade states to lower the drunk driving standard to 0.08 blood alcohol content. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) pledged its support, despite objections from operators who believed the measure would criminalize more of their patrons without affecting the number of problem drinkers. At the time, 19 states were using the 0.08 standard.

MADD rolled out its "Pasa Las Llaves" ("Pass the Keys") program in California in late 2001 to promote responsible driving concepts among Latinos, a group with a disproportionate rate of alcohol consumption. Around the same time, the organization was signing up MADD chapters, known as UMADD, at universities around the country. Underage drinking and binge drinking were problems on campus. Another group, Students Against Driving Drunk (SADD), was not affiliated with MADD.

The MADD logo was updated for the first time in August 2002. The words "Mothers Against Drunk Driving" were dropped from the logo due to name recognition for the MADD acronym, which a Gallup survey pegged at 97 percent.

Further Reading:

  • Blumenthal, Karen, "Philanthropy: Chapters Fight MADD Over Control of Money," Wall Street Journal, March 13, 1995, p. B1.
  • Deam, Jenny, "MADD Milestone: California Mom Changed Nation's Drinking Habits," Denver Post, September 5, 2000, p. E1.
  • "Diana's Death Invoked in MADD Ad Campaign," Record (Bergen County, N.J.), September 14, 1997, p. A10.
  • "Drunken-Driving Fight Slipping, MADD Reports; Alcohol-Related Deaths Increasing Again After Falling for a Decade," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 27, 1996, p. 6.
  • Griffin, Katherine, "MADD Again," Health, July/August 1994, pp. 62+.
  • Houghton, Jennifer, "Neckties Bring Attention to DUI Dangers," Parkersburg (West Virginia) News, May 22, 1997, p. C1.
  • Humphrey, Tom, "Stiffer Law Pleases MADD; Legal Limit 0.08 Starting in 2003," News Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.), July 11, 2002, p. B1.
  • Jonsson, Patrik, "State May Give Drunk Drivers Death Penalty; N. Carolina Is at Front of Trend that Treats Vehicular Homicide as Just Plain Murder," Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 2000, p. 2.
  • Koltnow, Barry, "MADD Sees Something to Be Glad About," Orange County Register, November 5, 1993, p. P41.
  • Lowe, Kimberly, "Has MADD Gone Mad?," Restaurants & Institutions, March 15, 1997, p. 14.
  • "MADD Founder Switches Sides," Oregonian, January 15, 1994, p. A17.
  • "MADD Hopes Drivers Will 'Tie One On' to Save Lives," Oregonian, November 26, 1991, p. B4.
  • "MADD's Attorney Accused of Using Link to Get Clients--And Minnesota President Is Trying to Oust Director," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), February 19, 1991, p. 1B.
  • Marshall, Mac, and Alice Oleson, "MADDer Than Hell," Qualitative Health Research, February 1996, pp. 6+.
  • Martin, Hugo, "Drunk-Driving Foes Launch Effort to Reach State's Latinos," Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2001, p. B1.
  • Mathews, Jay, "MADD Against Ads: Widening a Crusade, Group Opposes Pitches Appealing to Youth," Washington Post, December 14, 1994, p. F1.
  • Nichols, Hans S., "Getting Drunk on Rebellion," Insight on the News, July 16, 2001, pp. 18f.
  • Peters, Eric, "MADD House," National Review, September 28, 1998, pp. 36f.
  • Pianin, Eric, "How Pressure Politics Bottled Up a Tougher Drunk-Driving Rule," Washington Post, May 22, 1998, p. A20.
  • Prewitt, Milford, "Operators Angry Over Liquor Industry's Support of MADD," Nation's Restaurant News, April 30, 2001, pp. 1, 79.
  • Robison, Clay, and R.G. Ratcliffe, "Bill to Cut DWI Level Likely Killed; MADD Criticizes Senator's Maneuver," Houston Chronicle, May 19, 1997, p. A1.
  • Rudavsky, Shari, "After Car Crash at UMass, Students Turn to MADD; Chapter Is Among First in the Nation," Boston Globe, December 2, 2001, p. C9.
  • Santana, Arthur, "MADD Marks 20th Anniversary with New Appeal to Congress," Seattle Times, September 7, 2000, p. A17.
  • Sealey, Geraldine, "Drunken-Driving Foes Face a New Enemy: Their Own Success," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 1998, p. A1.
  • Smith, Lynn, "MADD at 20: Still a Force for Change," Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2000, p. E1.
  • Somerville, Sylvia, "MADD About Money," Restaurant Hospitality, February 1992, p. 48.
  • Stamborski, Al, "Wise-Er? Under Pressure, A-B Drops Frog Commercials," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1997, p. C1.
  • Sutherland, John, "How America's Roads Became Safer Thanks to a Bunch of Madd Women--and Where the US Goes, We Follow," Guardian, March 19, 2001.
  • Teinowitz, Ira, "MADD's Demands for Equal Ad Time Fall on Deaf Ears," Advertising Age, June 14, 1999, p. 16.
  • Valentine, Paul W., "MADD Turns Its Message to Teenagers; Young Drivers to Be Focus of Anti-Drinking Initiatives," Washington Post, October 24, 1996, p. B1.
  • "Volunteering For and Working With Your Local MADD Chapter," Journal of American Insurance, Fourth Quarter 1990, pp. 9+.
  • Walker, Theresa, "O.C. Resident Takes Over MADD Leadership," Orange County Register, December 31, 1993, p. B2.
  • Ward, Kyle, "MADD's Telemarketing: Successes and Cautions," Fund Raising Management, March 1992, pp. 26+.
  • Weed, F.J., "The MADD Queen: Charisma and the Founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving," Leadership Quarterly, 1993, pp. 329-46.
  • Zuber, Amy, "NRA and MADD Unite to Combat Drunk Driving," Nation's Restaurant News, June 16, 1997, pp. 1, 99.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 51. St. James Press, 2003.