Mothers Against Drunk Driving has a comprehensive legislative agenda.
MADD has lobbied for the reduction of the legal threshold for impairment to .08, stiffer sentences for those convicted of drunken driving and mandatory breath-alcohol detecting ignition devices on the vehicles of convicted drunken drivers. The 23-year-old group also endorses random DUI checkpoints and higher taxes on beer, while opposing a reduction of the legal drinking age.
But legislative action isn’t the main thing that MADD does.
“Probably the best-kept secret of MADD is our victim services,” said Connie Lewis, a victim advocate for MADD of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Lewis was the guest speaker at the 7th Police District Advisory Council meeting on March 15.
“People hear about our legislative advocacy. (But) really, the root of MADD is victim services.”
The group seeks to help those injured by drunken drivers, the families of those killed and injured and those who suffer economic and emotional hardship as a result of drunken drivers.
Volunteers visit hospitals, attend funerals, accompany victims and their families to court, help victims obtain crash reports and other legal documents, offer counseling referrals, organize support groups and help the injured and their families get crime victim compensation.
All services are provided for free.
Spring is a very important time of year for MADD, Lewis said, because April, May and June are the months with the greatest number of drinking-related teen deaths.
In addition, MADD has a far-reaching public education program about the dangers of drunken driving. More than two decades after its founding, MADD still finds that many people don’t understand the gravity of the decision to get behind the wheel while impaired, Lewis said.
Many folks still consider drunken-driving crashes “accidents,” as if there was no intent involved, she explained. But that’s a misconception.
“You know that when you’re drinking and driving, you have a big (potential) weapon in your hands,” Lewis said.
MADD remains very much a policy-driven effort, too. The top priority of its “Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving” is high-visibility law enforcement. The belief is that if more police are on the street, more people will be reluctant to drive drunk.
The group still favors expanding auto ignition interlocking devices and other advanced vehicle technology to prevent impaired driving.
“The technology is there,” Lewis said.
MADD continues to organize grassroots support for its causes.
However, the group no longer seeks to reduce the blood-alcohol content threshold. In Pennsylvania, the number was .10 percent a decade ago. In 2000, Congress passed the .08 percent level. Within five years, every state had adopted the lower threshold.
Currently, groups in some states are calling for another reduction to .05 percent, Lewis said, but MADD is satisfied with the .08 level.
In unrelated business, Capt. Joe Zaffino, commander of the district, warned motorists never to leave their vehicles running when parked and unattended. It could result in a ticket.
The underlying problem is auto theft, Zaffino said. There were 13 auto thefts reported in the district during a recently concluded 28-day period, marking an 80 percent increase in cases, Zaffino said. Yet, among the thefts, seven occurred when the car owner left the vehicle unattended and running.
On March 15, one area motorist learned the hard way that there’s an ordinance against that.
Zaffino spotted the car outside a convenience store. He waited for the owner to arrive and wrote him a ticket for $31. In 30 years as a police officer, he had never written a running-car ticket.
“Now it’s time to crack down on those folks,” he said. “If they can play a part in helping me lower these (auto theft) numbers, I want to impress it upon them.”
Community relations officer Rich Simon noted that unattended cars, when the engine is left running, can present a safety hazard. If the vehicle slips into gear, it could strike another car, a building or a person.
Another frustrating crime trend in the district is the repeated burglary of a public storage business on Byberry Road, west of Evans Street.
Last month, burglars broke into 28 storage units, Zaffino said. The business has been the target of similar raids in the past. For years, the captain said, he’s been trying to convince the proprietor to invest in surveillance cameras to secure the site.
“They tell me it’s not cost-effective. I call corporate and corporate doesn’t get back to me,” he said.
Nonetheless, burglaries as a whole are on the decline, Zaffino said. When a burglary occurs now, officers go to the neighborhood and distribute informational fliers. There were 16 burglaries in the recently concluded 28-day period, compared to 40 in the previous period.
Zaffino also alerted residents about thieves who have been stealing air conditioning units from outside homes. The units contain valuable copper components. Witnesses have seen a suspicious white pickup truck in the vicinity of the crimes.
Sgt. James Lennon and Officers Michael Palinkas and Brian Fuss were named Officers of the Month for capturing the suspected armed robber of a Game Fixx store at 12006 Bustleton Ave.
The suspect allegedly pointed a rifle with a scope at a cashier and a 12-year-old boy who was a customer at the store before fleeing in a car southbound on Bustleton Avenue.
Lennon spotted the car but lost it as it traveled at a high speed in the northbound lanes against traffic flow. Palinkas and Fuss sighted the fleeing car a short time later as it careened onto Winchester Avenue and struck a tree. They arrested the suspect. ••EndFragment