Los Angeles City Hall illuminated in red to honor the victims of drunk and drugged drivers. (Photo Courtesy of Mothers Against Drunk Driving)

Tis’ the season to raise awareness –the “Tie One On for Safety Campaign,” now in its 36th year, is underway. 

LA City hall was lit up in red and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) held a candlelight vigil in memory of victims of drunk and drugged driving. 

Patricia Rillera, MADD’s state executive director, said this was the first time city hall was illuminated in red for this cause.  Members of the nonprofit organization — along with other City of Los Angeles officials including Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, City Attorney Mike Feuer and LAPD Chief Michel Moore — gathered in front of City Hall on Nov. 18 to support  this year’s designated driver public awareness campaign. 

During the campaign — which ends on Jan. 1, 2023 — MADD asks drivers to make a commitment to designate a non-drinking driver during the winter holiday season. The campaign began in 1986 in an effort to save lives during the most dangerous times of the year on the country’s roadways — between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

“We know that between Blackout Wednesday, which is the day before Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day is one of the most deadly times of the year for drinking and driving,” said MADD National President Alex Otte. “So this is a really important time to bring that message to people and raise awareness.”

Otte said that more than 12,000 people are killed and more than 300,000 people are injured every year due to drunk drivers.

“Every single one of those numbers was a person with a life and a future and hopes for tomorrow that they didn’t get to live because someone else made a choice,” she said.

Otte said that it will take everyone, from officers and legislators to victims, to be part of the solution to prevent drunk driving.

“I hope [people] understand that there are consequences for the choice of drinking and driving,” Otte said. “It’s not an accident. It’s not a mistake. It’s a choice, and there are so many consequences and oftentimes, those consequences [fall on] innocent people.”

Otte’s desire to see an end to drunk driving accidents stems from her own tragic experience. She was 13 years old on a jet ski in Kentucky when a drunk driver ran her over in his boat going over 60 miles per hour.

Otte sustained severe, life-threatening injuries over her entire body, including a traumatic brain injury, a broken neck, a broken collarbone and the loss of her lower right leg. She suffers from severe pain daily and short-term memory loss.

The driver was arrested and found to be three times over the legal alcohol limit. Despite this being the driver’s fourth DUI arrest, Otte said he spent a few hours in jail, was fined $250 and then sent home. He has reportedly been arrested several more times for DUI’s since then.

It was right after the accident that Otte and her family were contacted by MADD. An advocate from the organization came to court to support them through the criminal justice process. Once Otte had recovered enough to be out of a wheelchair and didn’t require a neck brace, she started to volunteer for MADD. She became president in January 2021 and her term will end this year.

“I knew that I wanted to be the last little girl this would ever happen to, and I wanted to be a part of making that happen,” she said. “I know that 12 years later [after the accident] that I wasn’t, but I will continue to fight along with so many other people until there is a last person impacted by this crime.”

Drivers can show their commitment by tying a MADD red ribbon on their vehicle. To receive a ribbon, or to learn other ways of showing support, go to https://madd.org/drunk-driving/tie-one-on-for-safety/.