Sunday Conversation with Debbie Day


Sunday Conversation with Debbie Day

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The time between Halloween and New Year’s is the busiest and most treacherous driving season, explains Debbie Day, state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Georgia. That’s because so many people don’t make a plan to have a designated driver before they go out to celebrate during these months. Then, too, victims who have lost children, siblings, parents, spouses, and friends to drunk driving struggle to get through the holiday season because of their grief. Even though the busy season has passed, there is still plenty of work to do, Day says. Drunk drivers don’t abide by a calendar.

Q: Talk in general about MADD’s contributions.

A: Since MADD was started 35 years ago, drunk driving deaths have been cut in half. As the nation’s leading DUI victim rights organization, we led the fight for a blood alcohol content limit. Now every state considers a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent to be driving under the influence.

Q: What is MADD’s focus?

A: Our main focus is working toward a future with no more victims by ending drunk driving and preventing underage drinking.

Q: Whom do you consider victims?

A: Everyone is at risk of becoming a victim of a DUI, whether as a crash fatality or as an injured survivor.

Q: What services do you offer?

A: We provide advocacy and emotional support. We are the only organization dedicated to preventing drunk and drugged driving that has a 24-hour/7-day-a-week victim-survivor help line. We also help people write victim impact statements, accompany victims to court, and give them outlets to share their stories. MADD has a yearly victim vigil, a legislative day and a walk where victims can meet other victims.

Q: What are the current issues Georgians are confronting in terms of drunk and drugged driving?

A: Georgia is one of the leading states in the nation in the increase in crash fatalities. The number of traffic fatalities in 2015 was up 17 percent over 2014, the first increase in nine years, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. We are double the national average in 2015. GDOT reports that the wrecks can be traced to distracted driving, failure to wear seatbelts, drugs or alcohol, and driving while sleepy. I can tell you that in 2014, 24 percent of all of the crash-related deaths in Georgia were alcohol-related.

Q: What are you doing to reverse that?

A: We are actively involved at the Georgia Legislature in passage of House Bill 205, which would allow for ignition interlock devices to be placed in the cars of first-time DUI offenders. The way the devices work is that the driver blows into a mouthpiece on the device. If alcohol is detected, the car won’t start. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows that ignition interlock devices reduce repeat offenses for driving under the influence by 67 percent. Now it is time to step up and join the 39 other states with some form of ignition interlock legislation for first-time offenders to ensure that they don’t become repeat offenders in Georgia.

Q: MADD Georgia just received a $126,000 grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. What are you going to do with the money?

A: The grant will support our efforts with law enforcement across the state, underage drinking prevention programs, and general awareness of MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. We do a lot of speaking to high school students and their parents. There are just so many options these days for people who drink not to drive — Uber, public transportation, limousines, staying at home. We have all experienced a loss. But loss caused by a drunk driver is 100 percent preventable.

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