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MADD Builds Strong Bond With Police Officers

A Maryland woman candidly admits she’s been on a mission.

It started 20 years ago when Jan Withers was awaken early one morning with news that’s every parent’s nightmare – her daughter had been seriously hurt in a crash.

Her daughter was spending the night with a friend when two boys who had been drinking came over, and asked them to go for a ride.

Withers' daughter was ejected when the right side of the car was ripped open. "She was thrown, and laid in the dark woods..."

Despite valiant efforts, her 15-year-old daughter died.

Withers, who says she can’t adequately describe the emotional turmoil, called MADD for support. “I literally thought I was going crazy…”

Now, that once grieving mother heads the national organization lobbying wherever and whenever she can to get drinking drivers off the road. She also is there to lend an ear and hold the hand of someone who’s going through what she did.

Withers, a certified counselor, says people need to hear how lives are changed when a drunk or buzzed driver hits the road.

It was a daunting task, she says, getting all states to reduce the intoxication level from 1.0 to .08. She added that the measure passed only after federal transportation officials threatened to withhold funding.

While they were pleased with the measure, MADD members weren’t about to take a break. There was much more to do.

When deaths and injuries started to rise again, Withers said MADD turned its effort to getting interlock devices placed in vehicles. “Research shows that it’s effective way to reduce fatalities.”

“We want interlocks ordered for all convicted drunk drivers, not just for repeat offenders or those with high alcohol contents,” she said.

When MADD started lobbying for interlocks six years ago, only one state had the law. Now, 17 have laws on the books, and legislators in others are considering it.

Withers said MADD appreciates the work of law enforcement officers across the country who work to get drunk drivers off the road.

“We support our heroes who work hard to keep us safe,” she said, adding that MADD recognizes officers for their efforts, including sobriety checkpoints.

"It's because of our partnership with police officers that drunk driving fatalities have been cut in half since MADD was established in 1980," she said.

But, Withers added she’s disappointed that some people still haven’t learned that drunk and impaired drivers kill.

Before the holidays last year, she participated on a national TV show and watched as groups of people interacted with someone who pretended to drink too much. 

While some people suggested he shouldn’t drive, the majority didn’t try to stop him.

The experience left her speechless. “People still don’t get it. They were willing to ride with him or let him drive.”

The one woman who finally adamantly stopped the man from driving had lost a family member to a drunk driver.

Withers also expressed her anger after a waitress at an American Legion in Ohio was fired for calling police after a man who had too much to drink was getting behind the wheel. The woman had implored him not to drive, to call someone or stay. 

“Things like that should never happen,” she said. “She may have saved someone’s life.”