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MADD Severs Ties with Liquor-Backed Organization

Posted in Drunk Driving

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has cut ties with Century Council, a nonprofit organization funded by liquor makers such as Diageo PLC, claiming that the Council has hindered their efforts by opposing state legislation requiring harsher penalties for first-time drunk driving offenses, among other things.

MADD asked the Century Council to stop proclaiming it is a partner of MADD and to remove MADD’s logo from its website and other materials. MADD said the Century Council had pledged to stay neutral on the measures, and that they place too much emphasis on “hardcore” drunken drivers and not enough on all people who drink and drive.

MADD said that it agrees that “hardcore” drunken drivers be targeted, but also points out that many deaths are caused by drivers with no previous record and by those with blood-alcohol levels below .15 percent. In 2007, drivers below .15 but over the legal limit accounted for about one-third of alcohol-related driving deaths in the United States.

“When they get in the way of our efforts to get drunk drivers off the road, we get deeply offended,” said MADD’s chief executive Chuck Hurley.

The Century Council is disappointed with MADD’s decision. "Given the fact that we have the same end goal in mind, it’s unfortunate that we are having a debate over tactics," said Ralph Blackman, chief executive of the organization.

Founded in 1991 to fight drunken driving and underage drinking, the Century Council said it supports the mandatory use of interlock devices for first offenders with blood-alcohol content of at least .15 percent—nearly twice the legal limit of .08 percent. The group said it is neutral on bills targeting lower-level offenders, preferring to leave those matters to a judge.

Alcohol-related car crash deaths were greatly reduced from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, but deaths have remained at about 13,000 per year since then, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In 2006, MADD announced a campaign to eventually eliminate drunken driving, including a plan to support research of technology that could one day enable cars to automatically detect if a driver’s blood-alcohol level is over the legal limit and keep the vehicle from starting in those cases.

In the meantime, MADD is pushing states to require “ignition interlocks” for first-time offenders. The driver must breathe into the device before starting the car—if alcohol is detected, the car won’t start. About six states have adopted this mandate for all first-time offenders.

MADD said it agreed to partner with the Century Council as long as the group wouldn’t oppose bills that mandate interlocks for all first-time offenders. But recent Century Council letters indicate opposition rather than neutrality. Blackman disagreed, but said that language in the letter suggest that the Century Council has other priorities.