Born in 1946, activist Candy Lightner spent her early life in California. She went to American River College in Sacramento and later married Steve Lightner. The couple had three children, twin daughters Cari and Serena, and son Travis. In 1980, her daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver. Lightner quickly formed Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (later Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to raise awareness on this problem and to fight for tough laws against offenders. She was appointed to a national commission on this issue by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The following year, Lightner left MADD. She has continued to work on social and legal issues as an activist since then. She also serves as a consultant to organizations and companies.
Before Tragedy Struck
Born Candace Doddridge on May 30, 1946, activist Candy Lightner grew up in California. Her father served in the U.S. Air Force, and her mother worked for this military branch as a civilian. After high school, Lightner attended American River College in Sacramento. She worked as a dental assistant for a time and married U.S. Air Force officer Steve Lightner. The couple had three children together—twins Cari and Serena and son Travis—before divorcing.
After the divorce, Lightner settled with her kids in Fair Oaks, California. She started working as a real estate agent there. On May 3, 1980, Lightner suffered a tremendous loss. Her 13-year-old daughter Cari was hit by a car while walking to a church carnival with a friend. She was struck with such force that she was knocked out of shoes and thrown 125 feet. Cari died not long after the accident.
The driver that hit Cari never stopped, and it was later learned that he had been drunk at the time of the accident. This wasn't his first drunk driving accident. He had been arrested a short time earlier for another incident related to drunk driving. After police officers told her that the driver likely would receive little punishment for killing Cari, Lightner became enraged. She decided to channel her anger and grief into fighting drunk driving. "Death caused by drunk drivers is the only socially acceptable form of homicide," she later told People magazine.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Four days after Cari's death, Lightner started up a grassroots organization to advocate for stiffer penalties for drunk driving. She quit her job and used her savings to fund Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (later known as Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Before starting MADD, Lightner had been uninvolved in social reform or politics. "I wasn't even registered to vote," she explained to People magazine. Later that year, Lightner joined forces with Cindi Lamb, whose daughter had been left paralyzed by a drunk driving accident. The pair went to Washington, D.C., that October to raise awareness about the issue of drunk driving.
To advance her cause, Lightner proved to be a tireless fighter. She visited California governor Jerry Brown's office on a daily basis until the governor launched a state commission on drunk driving. Lightner was one of the first people appointed to the commission. Lecturing and lobbying across the country, she became a leading activist on this issue. President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the National Commission on Drunk Driving in 1984.
Through MADD, Lightner helped get new anti-drunk driving legislation passed in individual states and nationally. One of the group's most significant accomplishments from this time was the national law that raised the legal drinking age to 21. Lightner's activism also inspired her daughter Serena to form Students Against Drunk Driving. Lightner left the organization she founded in 1985 amid allegations of financial mismanagement. MADD was accused on spending too much money on fundraising instead of on programs.
No matter the circumstances of her departure, Lightner had helped develop MADD into an international movement during her tenure. She told CNN that the group had nearly 400 chapters across the globe and gained 2 million members within the first three years.
After MADD, Lightner continued to work as an social activist and public speaker. She wrote the 1990 book Giving Sorrow Words: How to Cope with Grief and Get on with Your Life. Four years later, Lightner found herself under fire for agreeing to work as a lobbyist for the liquor industry. She explained to the Chicago Tribune that she didn't see the liquor industry as the enemy. "They're just as affected by drunk driving as anyone else. Drunk driving certainly doesn't enhance their business," she said.
These days, Lightner has been sharing her expertise as an organizer and campaigner through her company C L and Associates. She is also the president of We Save Lives, a nonprofit to address issues of public safety, and continues to be a strong advocate and community leader against drugged, drunk, and distracted driving.
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