Thursday, December 18, 2014

Staying Safe on the Road: Interview with Judy Utter of MADD

Earlier this month, we sat down with Judy Utter, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Services Specialist, to talk about their victim services program and how to plan ahead for holiday celebrations.

What is MADD’s mission?

MADD’s mission is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime, and to prevent under aged drinking.

What services does MADD provide for victims of drunk driving?

Our victims’ services vary depending on what our victims need. First of all we provide information on community resources that can assist the victims’ specific needs or emergency funding, and we attend court with victims if they want to be involved in the judicial process. We also have lots of grief materials that help victims cope with the grief and the emotions that surround a DUI. We have support groups in many of our offices including Sacramento, and I have facilitated one here for about 20 years. We are just generally available to listen to the victims and help them move forward from the crash.

What preventative programs are offered for under aged drivers?

We have three main focuses for educating under aged drivers. First we have our “Power of Parents” program that helps parents con verse with their teen about the issue of drinking. We also have a “Power of Teens” program which helps teen understand the reasons why 21 is the legal drinking age. Lastly we have our “Start Making a Right Turn” program which help teens who are in a crisis or who are on the edge by interacting with the teen and parents together to help get them back to the right path.

What is something that most people don’t know about drunk driving?

Most people don’t realize that the impairment level is so slight. They don’t realize at the time that they are in danger. Most don’t feel that they are impaired so they don’t think it is an issue to drive until it really hits home and you become a victim or an offender.

Most people also don’t realize that we have a drugged driving on our roads, whether prescription or illegal, and that also counts as a DUI.

How can people in the community help the fight against drunk driving?

The best way would be to have a designated driver and to plan ahead. Every time you are going out or you’re at home and you’re having people over and consuming alcohol, set up a safe ride home. Make sure you have a designated driver, honor that, or stay where you are — or even have your friends stay with you.

What is the hardest part of working with victims and survivors?

I’ve been doing this a long time — about 20 years. For me, it is the reality that we still have so many injured and so many families that have been touched by drunk driving. There have been some horrific crashes out there but MADD is always there to listen and always there to support them. Understanding that by supporting victims, they are able to make that next move forward makes a difference for me. I love what I do, it is a sad job, but seeing a victim come so distraught then working with them together — you never forget but you can move forward.

Is there an increase of drunk driving during the holidays?

Sadly, yes. We do have an increase because there are so many people out enjoying and having holiday parties. So yes, the tragedy is that there is a rise in drunk driving during this time of year.

Will more DUI Checkpoints make a difference?

Yes. What our checkpoints do is bring awareness to the community as well as get offenders off the road. More importantly it’s awareness of the community of the dangers of drinking and driving. We support them and are out there working with them at the checkpoints and we feel that it is very beneficial.

Do you have any advice for people during the holidays?

Before you go out, before you plan your party, the first thing to do is to make sure you have a designated driver. Make sure you have a safe ride home. There are so many available options now whether it’s calling cabs, Ubers, limousines, or staying where you are. If you are that designated driver celebrate that, honor that, and you can still have a good time! Let’s change the perception so that the designated driver is the hero.