It was nearly 40 years ago that Doris Aiken sat in her kitchen and read with a broken heart the story of two teenagers, siblings, a 17-year-old girl and 19-year-old young man, who were killed by a 22-year-old drunk driver. She knew the teens distantly, but as a mother herself, she couldn’t help but feel a profound ache. As a journalist who hosted a local television program, she also sensed this was a story worth telling.
But as she began delving further into this pressing social issue, she discovered the attitudes of police and local prosecutors were shockingly laissez-faire. When she sat down with the local district attorney to ask whether he would press for a severe sentence for the driver, his response astounded her.
He laughed. Then he answered that his office didn’t take away licenses or jail those who were arrested for drunk driving. He underscored that this was, after all, an accident. “He didn’t mean to do it,” the D.A. explained of the man with a blood-alcohol level of twice the legal limit and an open beer can between his knees. “He probably feels very bad about it.” The D.A. wouldn’t even return the calls of the mother of the two victims.
As a recent feature in Forbes.com explained, the D.A. advised Aiken not to get involved any further. Thankful for all of us, she didn’t listen. Now, at age 90, she’s still not listening.
In 1978, the year after the drunk driving accident deaths of Karen and Timothy Morris, Aiken – with the support of her Unitarian church – founded a grassroots organization called Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID). It was the very first anti-drunk driving organization in the U.S., and it was instrumental in shifting the national discussion on drunk driving. It organized victims. It moved lawmakers. It spurred real change.
When RID was founded, there were approximately 25,000 drunk driving deaths every year. Today, that figure has been slashed to about 10,000. Of course, that’s still far too many, but that’s a great deal of progress over the course of four decades.
When word of RID began to get around, stories just like the Morris’ started to come flooding in. One couple in North Carolina whose son was killed by a drunk driver revealed the man behind the wheel was able to plead the sentence down to one month of a suspended license.
“Death by motor vehicle is excusable,” the couple wrote to Aiken.
In Maryland, a young mother wrote about a drunk driver with three previous DUI arrests who downed two pints of whiskey before slamming into her car, permanently paralyzing her 5-month-old daughter. Then there was the mother in California who was told by police that the four-time DUI offender who drove drunk and killed her 13-year-old daughter, “surely will not go to prison,” adding simply that was not the way the system worked.
Aiken fought tirelessly to change that system.
RID was the precursor to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which is now the largest and most well-known anti-drunk driving agency in the U.S. Still, RID has at points had more than 130 active chapters in 30 states. They still routinely hold vigils. They successfully championed harsher sentences, license revocations, better enforcement actions and victim services.
Aiken and her team has worked to ensure that drunk driving is not simply seen as “a mistake,” but as a crime.
If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston drunk driving accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
Drunk Driving’s Biggest Foe: Doris Aiken At 90, July 27, 2016, By Barron Lerner, Forbes.com
More Blog Entries:
Revere Police Increase Drunk Driving Enforcement, July 18, 2016, Boston DUI Injury Attorney