MADD Again

With Texas No. 1 in DWI deaths, MADD gets down to business

"At the same time," Lewis notes, "there are 39 states that still take advantage of the checkpoint stops."

Critics, meanwhile, charge that MADD, having successfully fought battles to have the limit on blood alcohol content lowered and gotten a law passed banning open alcohol containers in vehicles, is now targeting the legal drinker. Others warn that drivers' rights will be violated.

Fort Worth's Frank Colosi, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, says that, like most, he's "personally concerned with the drunk driving problem and sympathetic to MADD's efforts.

MADD Executive Director Margaret Collins fears Texans have become desensitized to DWI deaths.
Mark Graham
MADD Executive Director Margaret Collins fears Texans have become desensitized to DWI deaths.

"At the same time," he adds, "we must realize the importance of liberty and privacy. Texans like their freedom, and the idea of sobriety checkpoints offers too great a chance for a person's 14th Amendment right to be violated." Colosi also expresses concern for the possible discrimination of minorities that might result from such stops. "This is a law," he says, "that allows the police to stop all of us and look into our cars. We are, in effect, being asked to give up our privacy. Historically, that is not the way our society has worked."

"We're not on a campaign to intrude on people's privacy, nor are we against social drinking," Collins responds. "We're only concerned with that driver who is intoxicated. This would be nothing but another way to assure the sober drivers that their streets and highways are safe." She and Lewis both cite the Supreme Court's ruling as evidence that such a measure would neither ignore drivers' rights nor make them a profiling target.

While that uphill battle continues, MADD is quietly fighting on new fronts. "Our top priority today," Collins says, "is being an advocate for the victims of drunk driving accidents. We want to help the injured survivors and families of victims through their difficulties and do everything we can to help make them aware of their rights and recourses." She or a member of her seven-person staff routinely accompanies families to trials, offering a compassionate ear and advising them of the troubling twists and turns of the legal process.

Today, in an effort to better reach the growing Hispanic population in the 11-county region served by the Irving and Fort Worth offices, two members of Collins' staff are fluent in Spanish.

When Adelita Avila's son was just 4, he was hit by a drunken driver, suffering a ruptured colon and brain injury. He lay in a coma for three weeks before his slow recovery began. "The woman who hit him," Avila says, "was ultimately charged with not stopping to render aid and received five years' probation. I just couldn't understand how someone could walk away from something like that so easily."

It is a situation for which the eight-year MADD employee repeatedly tries to prepare victims she now counsels. "The most frustrating part of my job," she admits, "is trying to explain to a family how the person who has caused them so much grief will likely make some kind of plea agreement for a light sentence."

And while Avila focuses much of her attention on minority victims, co-worker Velisa Mitchell has been overseeing the organization's fast-growing youth programs for the past three years. With funding provided by the Texas Department of Transportation, Mitchell makes presentations to high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools in an effort to avoid a new generation of intoxicated drivers. "We talk with them about everything from delaying experimenting with alcohol until they become adults to having them hear the stories of victims of drunk driving accidents," she says. "We feel it is extremely important that we grab the attention of these kids early."

Collins agrees. "Research has shown that the average age at which a person first has a full can or glass of beer--not just a sip--is 12." She admits that MADD's urging that alcohol consumption be put off until age 21 is "radical," but quickly points out that if it could be accomplished, it would reduce drinking-related accidents by 75 percent.

Meanwhile, she acknowledges, the public attitude drifts along its seemingly complacent course. And, as the statistics she can recite from memory seem too often to fall on deaf ears, she continues to deliver them: "The 9/11 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center," she says, "was one of the most horrible tragedies in American history. Over 3,000 people were killed." She pauses briefly for effect. "Meanwhile, over six times that many die in alcohol-related driving deaths in the United States every year."

Despite the frustration generated by that grim picture, Collins and MADD continue preaching such statistics. "We're not going away," she says.

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