The news media have been having fun reporting that Glynn Birch, the new national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is a man. That MADD would chose a president who has never been a mother doesn’t surprise me a bit, but I’ll get back to that later.
Meanwhile, lets look at a few excerpts from MADD‘s press release about their new president. The first paragraph introduces Glynn Birch. Here’s the second paragraph:
Today’s announcement is timely, as MADD took the opportunity to urge Congress to reject an Administration proposal that would divert $1.27 billion in restitution funds from the Crime Victim’s Fund of the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). Current MADD National President Wendy Hamilton said the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget proposal would be “a catastrophic blow to programs run by nearly 4,400 community service groups like MADD to assist four million crime victims most in need each year.”
Apparently, MADD‘s number one priority in the fight against the carnage caused by drunk driving is getting the government to give MADD more money. That sort of thing always makes me a bit cautious. It seems that almost all identifiable groups of the poor and downtrodden are surrounded by buzzing clouds of middle-class folks—doctors, lawyers, social workers, advocates, and other potential assistants—clamoring for government money. Of course, even the best charities get paid for their work, so MADD isn’t necessarily a bad organization because of it. But it does mean they don’t deserve a presumption of saintliness.
Let’s look at what MADD does to help crime victims. Consider the case of Glynn Birch’s own 21-month old son Courtney, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1988. Here’s what happened, and how MADD helped:
On May 3, 1988, Birch’s son Courtney was playing with his two cousins at his grandmother’s house when they ran outside to the sounds of an arriving ice cream truck. A car traveling 70 miles an hour struck and killed Courtney, and dragged his body 150 feet before finally stopping. The driver had a .26 blood-alcohol concentration, three prior DUI convictions and was driving on a suspended license as a result of previous DUIs. “This offender who took my son’s life was the epitome of a higher risk driver,” Birch said.
After his son’s death, Glynn contacted MADD to help him deal with his shock and grief. A trained MADD victim advocate, who was partially funded by a VOCA grant, guided him in writing a victim impact statement that helped send the convicted drunk driver to jail for the maximum fifteen years.
In other words, MADD helped the victim’s family by working to get the drunk driver a long sentence. I suppose the family was glad to see the killer get hard time, but I’m not sure this was really helping the victim’s family so much as it was hurting the criminal. There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking to maximize penalties for serious crimes, but is a VOCA grant to MADD the best way to do it? Surely it would be more efficient to use the VOCA money to increase funding to the prosecutor’s office. Or the legislature could just bump up the sentencing guidelines. (God knows, they never seem to pass up a chance to do that.)
Besides, I think MADD is exaggerating their own importance. I doubt their participation made much of a difference, because I doubt that the victim impact statement made much of a difference. I don’t believe the judge needed a victim impact statement to throw the book at a guy with .26 BAC who drives 70 miles per hour in a residential neighborhood and kills a child.
In a Chicago Tribune article, reporter Sam Singer gives us more information about outgoing MADD president Wendy Hamilton’s remarks. His summary includes these two telling paragraphs:
MADD says its concern is that the deterrent effect of current regulations has been limited to social and recreational drinkers—those least likely to be repeat offenders—while having negligible sway over habitual, or “high-risk” drivers.
Hamilton said the failure of past safety regulations to directly target high-risk drivers is a principal reason for the failure of the past decade’s legal reforms to translate, statistically speaking, into fewer alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
Now who’s fault is that? MADD has been campaigning for years for regulations that target social and recreational drinkers rather than high risk drivers. You only have to take a look at their positions on law enforcement page, where they advocate several issues that seem to go against their stated goal of targeting high-risk drivers.
MADD supports the frequent and regular use of highly publicized sobriety checkpoints and/or other high visibility enforcement programs to detect and apprehend alcohol and other drug impaired drivers, and as a visible deterrent to drinking and driving.
First of all, stopping and questioning thousands of people without a reason to suspect them of a crime is a violation of our civil liberties. Internal checkpoints are one of the surest signs of totalitarianism. (The Supreme Court disagrees with me, which is why we still have sobriety checkpoints.)
Second, this is an incredibly wasteful way to find high-risk drunk drivers. Only a tiny percentage of drivers are actually drunk, so stopping them all wastes a lot of police labor. We’d all be better off if the police were patrolling and keeping an eye out for dangerous drivers. Not only would they catch more drunk drivers, they’d catch a lot of other criminals.
Enforcing drunk driving laws with sobriety checkpoints is like enforcing rape laws by following random men around to see if they rape anybody.
(I could be persuaded on the efficacy of sobriety checkpoints by someone with real data comparing them to traditional patrolling.)
.08 Per Se BAC
MADD supports setting the illegal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for non-commercial drivers age 21 and older at .08 per se.
This is exactly the sort of low-level enforcement that MADD is now complaining about.
Open Containers in Vehicles
MADD endorses open container restrictions which prevent the consumption of alcohol or the possession of open containers of alcohol in any motor vehicle.
Again, this doesn’t target high-risk drivers. Heck, it doesn’t even target drunk drivers: You could be perfectly sober, and yet your passengers aren’t allowed to have a few beers. Heck, you could get busted for this if one of your passengers happens to have a closed but unsealed bottle of booze.
Some of MADD‘s policy issues have nothing to do with drinking, such as primary enforcement of seat belt laws. They also favor graduated driver’s licenses for young drivers, including nighttime driving restrictions and restrictions on carrying young passengers. I can’t imagine what my teenage years would have amounted to if I couldn’t ride around with my friends at night. Also, night driving is a lot easier because there’s less traffic. Besides, isn’t this really a matter for parents to decide?
On the other hand, many of MADD‘s policy issues have a lot to do with drinking but very little to do with driving. For one thing, they want stricter enforcement of the minimum drinking age law, including “driver’s license sanctions for underage persons convicted of purchase or possession of alcoholic beverages.” They want to turn all youth gatherings into Alcohol-Free Zones, apparently even for adults at the same event. They even want Social Host Liability which will “establish civil liability for adults who provide alcohol to underage persons or who allow underage persons to consume alcohol.” This would essentially prohibit parents from teaching their kids about responsible drinking by holding supervised parties.
MADD also supports the minimum drinking age of 21, alcohol and drug abuse prevention and education, laws against happy hours, warning labels on alcohol, uniform bar closing times, many policy changes for college campuses, and a vast array of restrictions on advertising.
Then there’s this:
MADD supports the requirement that all kegs and other large containers of alcoholic beverages be registered at point of purchase in order to facilitate identification of those who purchase illegally or to provide to youth under age 21.
Not all of MADD’s policies are as crazy as that last one, and some of them are probably even good ideas. However, I have become sympathetic to the view of many of MADD’s critics that it is more and more about alcohol prohibition than about drunk driving. There’s more to it than that, though, as evidenced by their automotive safety policies and their victim’s rights activity. I think they’ve become an organization that is interested mainly their own continued existence and growth. They’re in favor of anything that will bring in the money.
So, I’m not surprised they have a man as president. They stopped being about drunk driving a long time ago, they might as well forget the “Mothers” part of the name too.