DONNA TATE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF MADD, DISCUSSES MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING | VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

Locke Meredith: Hello, I’m Locke Meredith and I’d like to invite you to join us on the next Legal Lines. We’re pleased to have with us on the show the Executive Director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the State of Louisiana, Donna Tate. She is going to talk to us about the goal of MADD; which is to eliminate drunk driving, period. And the beauty is that it is achievable, two ways. One, make the right decision and know to not drink and drive but secondly technology is now developing that will enable us to prevent folks from getting in cars and driving drunk. So join us on the next Legal Lines with the Executive Director of MADD, Donna Tate.

 

Locke Meredith: Hello, I’m Locke Meredith and I’m very pleased to have on the show today Donna Tate. She is the Executive Director for the Louisiana Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, better known as MADD. Donna, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Donna Tate: Thank you.

Locke Meredith: I’m really looking forward to discussing this. I was reviewing all of the materials and the website, its an unbelievable amount of information. It is still just a huge issue not only for our state, but the whole nation.

Donna Tate: MADD’s mission is to stop drunk driving, prevent underage drinking, and support the victims of both of those. It is so far reaching but the thing people need to know is that they can get involved before it happens to them and prevent it from happening.

Locke Meredith: Right and what I love is, I was telling you earlier, I love the big goal and that is to stop drunk driving. It’s real simple and clear and I think probably most of the culture goes, well is that really possible, and the answer is yes.

Donna Tate: MADD’s campaign to prevent drunk driving is very, very achievable. It’s a decision, good people make bad decisions and bad things happen when you chose to drink and drive. I’ve yet to meet an offender who said well, I think I’ll have a few drinks at dinner, get in my car and I’ll injure somebody or myself, or I’ll kill somebody or myself. It just doesn’t happen that way.

Locke Meredith: And destroy their families. Either because they’ve lost a loved one, or they are taking care of them for the rest of their lives.

Donna Tate: That’s exactly right.

Locke Meredith: You know the other interesting side to this, and we will talk about each in a minute, but the fact we are talking about is a decision has to be made and that is don’t drink and then drive but there’s also now a whole new component to this and that is technology that empowers society to not let this event occur.

Donna Tate: Absolutely, right now there is technology available and Louisiana was one of the first four states to institute a law that requires all convicted drunk drivers to have an ignition interlock device installed in their car.

Locke Meredith: Alright, explain to the folks what that is an ignition lock system.

Donna Tate: Yes it’s an ignition interlock system. Most people call it the breath machine. It’s a device that’s installed in your vehicle and you are required to blow into it prior to being able to start the vehicle and if you register above a certain level of alcohol, and remember these are convicted drunk drivers so it’s a low level, .02. Because they have already shown that they have the proclivity to do this. It wont allow the car to start if you blow above a certain level. We’ve seen double digit decreases and other states, New Mexico for example, where convicted drunk drivers don’t repeat the offense when this device is used properly.

Locke Meredith: Fantastic, because you know you hear the horror stories of fifth and sixth offense. So they are getting whacked and then they are getting back in the car, even though they have a suspended license or its revoked and they are still driving and this is a way to just prevent that.

Donna Tate: Absolutely, and if we could increase implementation in Louisiana we would go a lot further. We average roughly thirty thousand arrests, there’s not any good data on convictions but we know that we only have about four thousand devices on the roads.

Locke Meredith: Say that again, that’s a big number.

Donna Tate: There are thirty thousand arrests.

Locke Meredith: So thirty thousand folks every year in Louisiana are arrested for drunk driving, yet there are only four thousand prosecutions…

Donna Tate: Well four thousand convictions that require an interlock device to be installed, that are on record.

Locke Meredith: Ok, so there may be other convictions but only four thousand are using this technology to make sure those folks don’t get back. Why, why is that so low?

Donna Tate: That’s a question that we are trying to get an answer to. MADD supports all of the research that is going into it; The Highway Safety Commission has commissioned some studies to get some information as to why this is happening. NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has held an interlock ignition institute here in New Orleans last year. There’s a lot of focus on how do we take that technology, how do we implement it effectively, and how do we reduce the rates of repeated offenses.

Locke Meredith: Ok, so explain the process to me. If I go out and I get tanked up and the cops pull me over because I’m an idiot and I’m either going to kill myself or someone else. I’m taken downtown, usually put in jail, have all the hearings, the Judge finds me guilty or I plead guilty and as part of that guilty plea or probation or whatever the ending of the proceedings is I have to have this device put in my vehicle? Who pays for it?

Donna Tate: You pay for it; it’s a cost purely to the offender. It costs the taxpayer nothing. There’s a monthly fee that they have to pay and an installation and removal fee.

Locke Meredith: And what do those fees range?

Donna Tate: Installation ranges sixty to eighty dollars. The monthly fee runs thirty to forty dollars a month for the calibration and reporting features.

Locke Meredith: And are there private companies that provide this service?

Donna Tate: Yes.

Locke Meredith: So it’s not the government doing it, its private companies.

Donna Tate: Private companies in the industry.

Locke Meredith: Okay, and what happens if an individual who is told by the court that they have to do that, doesn’t have the resources, who provides them then?

Donna Tate: At this point, Louisiana doesn’t have an indigent fund and that’s one of the gaps.

Locke Meredith: That’s what I was thinking is that a lot of folks, I mean I don’t know the stats on this but I would assume a lot of folks who are drinking and driving are medicating their pain, or addicted, another words, they aren’t doing real well economically. And so what the court is faced with is folks who can’t afford this.

Donna Tate: Yes, that is a factor.

Locke Meredith: And so how are we addressing it?

Donna Tate: At this point there isn’t…the best way to address it is legislatively, through creating an indigent fund. You have to be very careful in how you craft that and set it up. New Mexico did do that, they had some success; they also had some people that bankrupted their fund. So it’s a delicate balance of how do people qualify for that indigent fund and then how is it implemented and carried out.

Locke Meredith: It’s so interesting because we are talking about the expense of something that is less than one hundred to put in, less than one hundred to monitor a month and the cost of drunk driving and the injuries that result or the deaths that occur are staggering. Explain to the folks what that is.

Donna Tate: In Louisiana, 1.4 billion dollars a year, related to drunk driving fatalities.

Locke Meredith: How does that breakdown. I mean is that medical care or?

Donna Tate: It’s a formula that NHTSA created many years ago and it factors in the healthcare costs, the insurance costs, the lost time from work, really the total impact on the community.

Locke Meredith: You said New Mexico had this fund. What would be required for the state to come with such a type of fund and who implements it? Is it State, is it local government? How does this work?

Donna Tate: A piece of it definitely has to be the enforcement piece and the administration has to be carefully thought out. How best that works in Louisiana, I don’t really have the perfect answer to. We can look to other states that have been successful at it. There are some who are in the stages of being more successful to craft what really fits and works here and how large is our indigency problem.

Locke Meredith: So the money to pay for this, because when it’s all said and done it always seems to come back to the dollars, would have to come from the state government allocating funds for that or what?

Donna Tate: Absolutely not. In New Mexico one of the things they did was set a fee to the offender that a portion of that fee goes into the fund for indigent people who cant afford the devices in their cars. The brunt of the expense can actually be on the offenders back and not on the taxpayer.

Locke Meredith: And we are talking about drunk driving offenders only?

Donna Tate: Absolutely.

Locke Meredith: So any funds or you can add an additional charge to those offenders which is specifically dedicated to that fund.

Donna Tate: Absolutely.

Locke Meredith: And what we are doing is making sure that even though those folks can’t pay for it at least they are not getting back on the road killing our babies or our loved ones or that they may be ending their life.

Donna Tate: That’s right.

Locke Meredith: What other technologies exist right now that are coming online in this kind of regard?

Donna Tate: Well nationally, there is a blue ribbon panel and it’s available online for people who are interested at www.DADSS.ORG. For five years now MADD has supported the institute for highway safety and a number of organizations in the research of passive devices that would be installed.

Locke Meredith: So this is the Federal Government?

Donna Tate: Yes

Locke Meredith: Alright, lets continue this on the next segment. This is Legal Lines, Locke Meredith with Donna Tate, Director for MADD. We’ll be right back.

 

Locke Meredith: Welcome back to Legal Lines, I’m Locke Meredith and again I’m pleased to have on the show today Donna Tate. She’s the Executive Director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving here in Louisiana. Donna again thanks so much for being on the show.

Donna Tate: Thank you.

Locke Meredith: We were talking about the technology that has developed that prevents folks from getting in a vehicle and driving drunk. And you talked about the systems that exist to prevent somebody from starting their car what other technologies? You were talking about the federal government is financing, or has financed in the past anyway technologies. Explain that.

Donna Tate: Nationally, we are five years into a project and its available online, www.DADSS.ORG, and we are five years into the project and its in front of Congress now as a renewal of the roads safe act, which includes twelve million dollars to continue the research. Its not any new additional money to the taxpayers. They are in the pilot stages of creating devices that would be passive. Just like our seatbelts are to us today, but that would measure a driver’s blood alcohol content and not allow them to start the car if they were over the legal limit of .08. That’s different than an ignition interlock device which you actually have to blow into and it would register at a lower level. These are devices that would be incorporated into the steering wheel, into your seat, even potentially into the rear view mirror that would measure signs of impairment.

Locke Meredith: Really? Twelve million dollars is to further research this technology?

Donna Tate: It’s to finalize the research.

Locke Meredith: So the research has been done, they are ready to go.

Donna Tate: We have three devices and this is not MADD research this is a coalition of groups from across the country, including automobile manufacturers. They have three pilot devices that they are working on at this point in time. That they are beginning to look at how do we incorporate it into the vehicle, how do we make it low cost, high sensitivity and something that doesn’t interfere with a sober driver.

Locke Meredith: So this is another technology like the beeper as your backing up so you sense a kid behind you and you don’t run over them. That didn’t exist five years ago and now that’s a part of a lot of new cars. This is a technology that would keep drunk folks from getting behind the wheel.

Donna Tate: Exactly

Locke Meredith: Which is something we all want.

Donna Tate: Exactly, safety should be the number one desire but the other piece of it is that there would be an offset we believe, and the insurance industry believes, in the cost for insurance premiums that offsets the cost of the device in the car. So while yes, this going to be an additional cost to the car, you will see the reduction on the back end.

Locke Meredith: Let’s shift gears just a little bit. There’s kind of some programs or focuses that MADD has right now in Louisiana and maybe nationally where you are focusing on the heroes and blow before you go which is some of this technology we were just talking about. Explain that to the folks.

Donna Tate: This November will celebrate the fifth anniversary of our campaign to eliminate drunk driving. We believe we can make eliminating drunk driving the equivalent of eradicating polio because its about a decision and its about effecting that decision. The three prongs of our campaign are to support the heroes that keep our roads safe.

Locke Meredith: Police Officers.

Donna Tate: That’s right. There out there doing those checkpoints and how many of us wave and say thank you as you drive thru that checkpoint.

Locke Meredith: That’s right.

Donna Tate: We don’t.

Locke Meredith: We should.

Donna Tate: That’s right, we should. We absolutely should because they are keeping us safe. They are either arresting drunk drivers or they are deterring drunk drivers from being on the road. A very successful checkpoint is one that doesn’t catch anybody.

Locke Meredith: I was reading that one in three people that are involved in an automobile collision have a drunk driver involved.

Donna Tate: That’s right one in three American families are affected. We serve a victim every nine minutes.

Locke Meredith: That’s a huge, huge statistic. So focus on the police officers and the tools they need, they legislation they need to stop folks from driving drunk. If they are in their car, bust them, get them off the street. The other focus is the blow before you go.

Donna Tate: That’s right. The second prong is to require convicted drunk drivers to blow before they go. That’s the first device I talked about the ignition interlock device and we are fortunate enough to have that here in Louisiana. We just need to tighten up implementation.

Locke Meredith: We talked about the third component which was really part of that.

Donna Tate: Turning cars into the cure.

Locke Meredith: The technology is there in some respects and its certainly moving in that direction. Lets talk about where Louisiana ranks in this whole horrible event of drunk driving. I was reading that we fortieth but I don’t really know what that meant. Explain.

Donna Tate: It all depends on what source of data you look at. If you look at our website, we are ranked across the nation in the fortieth spot which means we are in the top ten deadliest states for drunk driving.

Locke Meredith: Not real good then.

Donna Tate: No, not real good. Not at all. We have seen some progress. The research that was done over last year’s statistics and were released in May, show that we are down to about forty two percent of the fatalities on our roadways being alcohol related, which is about a seven to eight percent drop.

Locke Meredith: So four out of ten fatalities on Louisiana roads involve drunk driving.

Donna Tate: Yes. Absolutely. It is way, way overrated for the amount of decision making. It’s the difference between arranging for a designated driver before you leave home and remembering that is the person that doesn’t drink anything, not the one who is the least drunk, or planning ahead the extra twenty bucks for a cab, the friends you are going to call.

Locke Meredith: Lets talk about the fact that you mentioned Louisiana has some pretty tough laws in this area, I think you referred to what we were discussing, aggressive law.

Donna Tate: Yes. Louisiana has some of the most aggressive laws.

Locke Meredith: So how do we have these aggressive laws but yet we are in the top ten deadliest states?

Donna Tate: Well implementation and application of those laws are a challenge sometimes and that runs across the criminal justice spectrum.

Locke Meredith: So where does that happen. I mean you have to have the legislation pass the law that’s says you cant do this and if you do this, this is what happens. You have to have the police officers and the Sheriff deputies go out and do the checkpoints, catch those people and arrest them. You have to have the prosecutors, the assistant DA going after these folks, and then you have to have the courts finding them guilty and imposing these penalties. Where are we breaking down? Is it the legislature, the prosecutors, the police officers, the judges? What is it?

Donna Tate: Well I don’t think there is any one single place that you can point the finger because the system as a whole has to work together to be effective. Depending where you are in the State each aspect of the system might be a little stronger or a little weaker than the others. Places where it tends to fall apart are systems of our own that we create. The average DWI arrest will take a police officer three to four hours, by the time they do the paperwork, field sobriety test, take them in to do the breathalyzer, and they process them through booking. That’s a lot to do for an officer. There are a lot of other demands on the street. There are burglaries, robberies, rapes so there are decisions that have to be made. Unfortunately not everyone looks at, it depends on what context your looking at the issue of drunk driving in; am I going to deal with this murder downtown or am I going to deal with this drunk driver?

Locke Meredith: Interesting, so just resources?

Donna Tate: Certainly, its tough decisions for everybody. When you get into the actual, you’ve gotten the arrest out of the way, you’ve got an offender that needs to be dealt with, you get into how the prosecutors route their clients. A lot of people view a DWI as, well it’s a mistake. Especially a first DWI. So there are a lot of programs out there that will allow people to bypass a conviction by going through a different set of steps and similar to a probation but it gives them an education. When that is done properly, we don’t have proof that it is effective with offenders but its neutral. The hard part of that is, that its not always done effectively. The research tells us that the offender needs twelve months of mandated treatment to have any real impact in their behavior.

Locke Meredith: Treatment in the terms of education or treatment in terms for an addiction?

Donna Tate: Both. Education. Of course if someone is addicted they need to be in a longer more formal program. But twelve months of closely monitored education is required to make a difference.

Locke Meredith: Ok, let’s continue this on the next segment. This is Locke Meredith, Legal Lines with Donna Tate, MADD for the chapter of Louisiana. We’ll be right back.

 

Locke Meredith: Welcome back to Legal Lines, I’m Locke Meredith and again we are very pleased to have on the show Donna Tate, she is the Executive Director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving here in Louisiana. Again, thank you for being on the show.

Donna Tate: Thank you.

Locke Meredith: Thank you for teaching us. And again I want to point out to the folks that the website is such a wonderful resource for not only the information that we are talking about but to educate themselves and their children but to also help provide services for folks. Tell the folks what other services are provided by MADD.

Donna Tate: MADD Louisiana obviously offers victims services, we will accompany victims to court; help them navigate the system, connect them with crime victims reparations, whatever their particular needs are.

Locke Meredith: Those are a big deal to people though. Kind of go into a little more detail.

Donna Tate: We have trained victim advocates who are familiar with how a case will progress thru the system. Most people who come in contact with a drunk driving crash or fatalities have never had contact, the victims, with the criminal justice system. So they are not familiar with the concept of a continuance which happens multiple times and extends the time that this person that they want to see brought to justice, takes to have that accomplished.

Locke Meredith: Communication with the prosecutor is a big deal.

Donna Tate: Absolutely.

Locke Meredith: Because they don’t know what they don’t know and if you don’t tell them you cant blame them.

Donna Tate: Absolutely. DA’s have case loads that are astronomical. So having someone that can advocate and say no that short answer is not all we need, we need a bigger answer to that question. The average citizen doesn’t know that to say, “Whoa time out, I deserve a better answer than that. I know you are busy but I need this piece of your time.”

Locke Meredith: The other thing is, in my experience, when I have some folks that are very passionate about what’s happened to them, we have some smart folks out there and they are going to go do all the research they need to and they can find all kinds of information about the events, or the person and they can turn it over to the prosecutor to follow up on if they need to.

Donna Tate: They sure can.

Locke Meredith: That’s a big deal.

Donna Tate: They sure can, and it is so, so amazing to see some of our victims and the extent that they will go to. They do have that passion, they’ve had something taken away from them that can never be replaced so the motivation is ten times what it would be, a thousand times than what it would be for anybody else.

Locke Meredith: And let’s face it, our system is not set up to deal with a loss like this. You can put that person behind bars, sue them, we even have in Louisiana, punishment damages. Where not only are you awarded compensatory damages for all your pain and suffering but you can receive an award to punish that individual but that doesn’t fix it.

Donna Tate: No, it doesn’t replace the loved one, or the injured, or life time of physical therapy, mental health services that someone needs because of the fatality or the injury.

Locke Meredith: And I think it’s so important, because we’ve talked about educating the prosecutor. But also the offender needs to be educated on what the consequences of the act are.

Donna Tate: Absolutely. We offer what are called victim impact panels throughout the state every month. Our victims actually take time out of their life to tell their stories to first and second offense DWI offenders. What we hope to do in that is aid our victims in healing, for the offenders we hope it opens there eyes and gives them a little different perspective. Many of them will tell us in there surveys afterwards, I never thought it was about anybody but me. It’s my decision, its my body, my car, I can do this. I’m not hurting anybody. Well nobody ever intends to kill anybody in a drunk driving crash and when they hear these stories they are able to get another perspective. Yeah there are other people on the road with me.

Locke Meredith: Well MADD is in every single state and two other territories and it was all begun by a mama who lost what a thirteen year old daughter?

Donna Tate: Yes, a thirteen year old daughter walking to the neighborhood fair and she was struck by a drunk driver.

Locke Meredith: So one individual can make a huge difference in this world.

Donna Tate: Absolutely.

Locke Meredith: Let’s talk about the groups. You have the group of offenders that are the adults and the system prosecutes them in the way that we are talking about. You put the technology in, you put them in jail, we’ve got our ways that we deal with them. Maybe not always effectively but we try. Then you have the kids, and the kids are really at risk. Peer pressure and how young they start drinking and getting behind the wheel of a car which is a missile. Explain to the folks how we are trying to deal with the kids.

Donna Tate: Well in our efforts to prevent underage drinking what we want to do is have kids have the information that they need to make good decisions. The Surgeon General says the kids need that information five to six years before they are faced with the decision. In Louisiana our kids start to drink at just under eleven years old. We need to be talking to our first graders and our second graders, how to make good decisions about what they put into their bodies, what happens when they put toxic substances into, and alcohol is toxic.

Locke Meredith: It’s killing their brain cells.

Donna Tate: How that affects them, and how they can stand up to their peers and say no, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to wait until I’m twenty one. And how to handle the peer pressure as they get older. So when they hit sixth grade and somebody offers them their first drink they can safely say no to that and walk away.

Locke Meredith: And I was reading statistically, seventy four percent of kids say they are going to take after, watch and model after what their parents do.

Donna Tate: Absolutely. That’s exactly right. Parents are the leading influence on a child’s decision to drink.

Locke Meredith: It’s a big deal.

Donna Tate: Big, big deal. I have a daughter and I worry about what are her friends telling her, what are they talking about? We all need to focus on what we are telling our kids to. You need to know what they are doing; you need to know who their friends are. You also need to have that conversation with them about alcohol. Even if you don’t think they will ever do it. Just having that conversation and setting the limits and having an understanding with your child is going to help them. It gives them the tools to say “make this decision to drink, and these are the consequences, maybe I’m not going to do that.” If that’s all it takes for a kid to say no.

Locke Meredith: Lets talk about the age. I have a hard time knowing that my eighteen year old sons and I have three sons, when they are eighteen that they can go strap on a helmet and a bullet proof vest and carry a machine gun and kill someone and be killed and yet the government is saying that you cant drink until you are twenty one. Tell the folks why that is the right decision.

Donna Tate: Well we set age limits for all kinds of different things. You cant vote until you are eighteen, you cant serve in the military until you are eighteen. We set those limits based on research, based on information that says you are ready to do this. The mandatory twenty one law is set because the research shows us that your brain is still developing until you are in your mid twenties. The effects of alcohol on the brain is damaging until it reaches a certain point of maturity and the mid twenties is what the research shows that we need to be at. One of the biggest things I tell people when they say the military says I can serve them at eighteen is that the Pentagon has been one of the biggest supporters of the mandatory twenty one. Before that became law universally in our country they were losing more than a battalion of soldiers every year to drunk driving, alcohol related injuries.

Locke Meredith: Interesting. Well lets face it, when you are a young fellow and your full of testerone and you are out to kind of rough it up It could be a bad recipe if you are tanked up.

Donna Tate: That’s right.

Locke Meredith: Talk about the services that ya’ll provide to counsel folks.

Donna Tate: Our victim advocates are available twenty four hours a day, here in Louisiana and Nationally we have a help line that is available. Whatever they need twenty four-seven. We serve a victim every 90 seconds.

Locke Meredith: And the website is what?

Donna Tate: www.madd.org

Locke Meredith: Donna, thank you so much. I very much appreciate it and I look forward to having you back. This is Locke Meredith on Legal Lines, Donna Tate, Executive Director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Thank you for being with us.

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