Educating children as well as their parents is one of the keys to solving Alaska's drunken driving problems, according to Millie Webb, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"Alcohol is the No. 1 killer of young people," Webb said. "We're going to have just as much of a job educating the parents as young people. ... Parents are saying, 'At least my child's not doing drugs.' They've got to realize it's dangerous and deadly."
Webb's week-long visit to Juneau coincided with the establishment of July 3 as Drunk Driving Victims Remembrance Day, signed into law by Gov. Tony Knowles last Tuesday. Knowles also signed bills aimed at cutting down the numbers of drunken drivers, providing treatment incentives and battling underage drinking.
It's a step in the right direction, Webb said.
"Alaska has the second-worst record (of alcohol fatalities) in the nation, so the fact that these legislators are looking to measures is a big step," Webb said. "There's been so much progress here and we just came up to let the Legislature in Juneau know how much we appreciate them."
Webb also participated in a July 3 tribute to victims of drunken driving and a seminar that trained volunteers on Juneau's MADD board of directors about victim assistance and public policy work.
The experience was a valuable one for Cindy Cashen, a volunteer with the local chapter of MADD.
"(Millie's) really inspirational," Cashen said. "She's taken a tragedy and turned it into positive energy to help other people."
Webb became involved in MADD after a driver with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level crashed into her family's car. Her nephew and daughter were killed, and Webb and her husband suffered serious burns.
"I debated for a long time if I should tell my story," Webb said. "But then I decided ... you can't change what happened to you but you can take what happened to you and reverse it into something good."
Webb continues to work around the nation, testifying in Missouri and Georgia before coming to Juneau. She said Alaska's educational efforts about drunken driving remind her of MADD's early work in the Lower 48.
A pivotal part of that education - and one of the three pillars of MADD's mission - is reaching out to parents and youths to prevent underage drinking. A 2000 National Youth Summit in Washington, D.C., brought together teens from every congressional district in America. They spent a weekend outlining their goals, then presented them to Congress at the conclusion of the summit.
"We don't give our young people the credit they deserve," Webb said. "They've got to change the social norm and realize it's not just a rite of passage for young people to drink and drive."
Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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