December 09, 2002


"Defining down" what constitutes drunk driving serves MADD by exaggerating just how many drunk people get behind the wheel. Inflated drunk driving statistics confirm MADD's relevance and help it raise money. Whether these new "drunks" actually are dangerous is beside the point.

Just last month, MADD issued a highly publicized grade of C for U.S. efforts to curb drunk driving. It cited increases in "alcohol-related traffic deaths" as its explanation for the low grade. The language that MADD used is important. "Alcohol-related" statistics include every accident in which someone involved had something to drink. That includes, for example, accidents in which a sober driver runs a red light and strikes a driver who had two beers and those in which a drunk stumbles out of a bar and into the path of a bus.

MADD regularly overlooks highway safety measures unrelated to alcohol when it is politically convenient. General Motors, for example, promised to give MADD $2.5 million over five years. Is it a coincidence that MADD is silent when GM glorifies speed in its marketing campaigns?

Yeah, but they've got a commercial about date rape, which doesn't have much to do with drunk driving. Back when I was researching the ethics book, which has a section on nonprofits, I ran across a story about MADD's shift in priorities, which included this passage:

We just have to realize that our mission isn't simply just to prevent drunk driving anymore. Part of our mission now is to raise enough money.

This is a normal stage in the evolution of non-profits. They start out mission-driven, and after a while become institution-driven. Then fund-raising starts to drive the mission. Since they're never happy to just declare victory and disband (the March of Dimes is still around, after all), they often wind up at a far remove from where they started, positionally.

What's more, because it lacks the market discipline of the for-profit sector, and the supervision that public companies face from securities regulators, etc., the nonprofit sector is probably subject to far more financial chicanery and mismanagement. I suspect that there are some good stories here for interested investigative journalists.

UPDATE: TalkLeft has some further thoughts on MADD, and some interesting links.