Shadowing Sobriety Checkpoints

Last month, Mothers Against Drunk Driving joined the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington, DC, to help kick off this year’s Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign. From Aug. 16 through Labor Day – one of the deadliest times on our roads – tens of thousands of law enforcement officers across the country showed zero tolerance for drunk driving.

During the kickoff, MADD also announced the first nationwide Saturation Saturday. On Aug. 24, MADD worked with police agencies in 20 states to ramp up DUI enforcement, whether through sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols, or by adding extra officers to the evening shift. Many departments relied on NHTSA grants to do this lifesaving work, and Saturation Saturday coincided with the NHTSA campaign.

I was so proud to stand with our traffic safety partners and grateful to have the opportunity to thank the law enforcement officers who keep our roads safe every day.

Support for high-visibility law enforcement is a cornerstone of MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. We know that their presence alone keeps drunk drivers off the roads and deters other crimes as well. When people think they’ll be caught, they’re less likely to drive after drinking. In fact, sobriety checkpoints can reduce drunk driving deaths by 17 percent.

I did not always understand the vital role law enforcement plays in our fight to end this crime.

My daughter had been dead for no more than a year when I was asked to attend a sobriety checkpoint as a MADD volunteer. I did not know exactly what I would be doing. I did know I wanted to make sure no other family experienced what ours had.

Inside a Miami police station, I watched my first roll call. I listened to a fellow victim tell how drunk driving had taken the life of someone she loved. Then it was my turn to talk about my daughter.

I told how on the last day of her life, 16-year-old Helen Marie was nervous about directing a school play. She wanted to go rollerblading to work off her stress, and she promised not to be long.

Helen Marie skated to the end of our driveway, flipped around, blew me a kiss and told she loved me. She never came home.

A 17-year-old driver, impaired on alcohol and marijuana, ran off the road and onto the bike path. My daughter died an instant, violent, terrifying death.

When I finished my story, I remembered to thank the officers, even though I still didn’t know what I was thanking them for.

I was about to learn.

Out on the roadway, officers set up checkpoints to look for impaired drivers. A string of headlights stretched out in the darkness. Every once in a while, an officer asked a suspected drunk driver to pull over for a roadside sobriety test. When the driver failed, the officer detained the dangerous driver, getting them off the road before they could hurt someone.

These officers were fighting the crime that killed my daughter, the crime that continues to kill nearly 11,000 people each year. These officers were saving lives.

In the nearly two decades since Helen Marie’s death, I have attended more than 100 sobriety checkpoints. Each one helped diminish my feelings of helplessness. Each interaction with these law enforcement heroes brought me healing.

Today, I am proud to stand with them as MADD National President as they continue their lifesaving work.


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