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MADD Safety Advocates Ride With Waymo to Raise Awareness About Choosing a Designated Driver

December 20, 2021

Woman in red dress standing in front of a Waymo autonomous vehicle

Jennifer Thompson lost her 15-year-old daughter, Felicia. Alex Otte sustained life-threatening injuries from head to toe. These two different tragedies were the result of the same reckless behavior that remains the number one killer on America’s roadways: drunk driving.

But although Jennifer and Alex experienced profound loss, they are also bound by hope. “I knew I wanted to be the last little girl this would ever happen to,” says Alex, who is the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Jennifer shares her story through a MADD program in Phoenix that encourages drunk driving prevention and behavior change through storytelling. 

“Talking about Felicia is changing lives; it is preventing this crime from happening again,” Jennifer says.

Both Jennifer and Alex are committed to a vision of a future with no more drunk driving deaths and are embracing the potential of new road safety technologies, including autonomous driving technology like Waymo’s, to help create that future.

“We know it is going to take everyone at the table, and all different kinds of technology,” Alex emphasizes, underscoring MADD’s commitment to reach a day where there are no more victims of drunk driving. “We know that there are so many options to saving lives, and the more options we can give people, the better.”

Waymo’s autonomous driving technology conducts all tasks of a driver, never drives drunk or impaired, and is designed to follow traffic laws such as speed limits, all while respecting other road users like pedestrians and cyclists. 

Waymo and MADD are partnering to mark the 35th anniversary of MADD’s Tie One On for Safety campaign, a designated driver campaign held each year between Thanksgiving Eve and New Year’s Day to remind people of the importance of designating a non-drinking driver. The vehicles in Waymo’s fleet, including its Waymo One passenger vehicles and Class 8 trucks, are sporting red ribbon decals this season as participants in and sponsors of the MADD Tie One On for Safety campaign. 

Jennifer Thompson speaking at a podium

Waymo invited Alex and Jennifer to take a fully autonomous ride so they could experience the technology for themselves. 

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Jennifer says. “At first I was very apprehensive, very nervous, because it is a computer that is driving the vehicle.”

Both riders were surprised to experience what they said was the Waymo Driver’s precision in terms of how it drove and maneuvered.

“Once you have been in it for a couple of minutes you kind of forget [that it’s autonomous],” Alex says. “It is such a smooth ride that you almost forget there is not a [human] driver in the car.”

Jennifer says she believes the technology could change the status quo when it comes to drunk driving.

“I would have never thought I would see something like this in my lifetime,” Jennifer says. “If this technology had been around 14 years ago, I might still have my daughter.”

Alex says she hopes people will make plans to designate non-drinking drivers as holiday travel, parties, and family gatherings put more people on the roads.

"As we enter the busy holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, we want everyone to stay safe and enjoy this festive time by making sure plans for a designated driver are a top priority," said Alex. "Whether you're going out or hosting friends and family at home, planning for a non-drinking driver or confirming your guests have one is the most important decision you can make."

For people who are spending the holidays in Metro Phoenix, that plan can include hailing a fully autonomous ride. As part of the Tie One On for Safety campaign, Waymo is offering riders in the Phoenix East Valley 50% off one autonomous ride through New Year's Day by using the promo code MADD21 on its ride-hailing app.

"We know the past year and a half has been like no other, and we hope everyone will do their part to stop this public safety crisis," Alex urges.