Doris Aiken was 51 years old when she started Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID), an organization that began in her home in Schenectady and took root across America.
That was back in the 1970s, when in most cases, it was not a crime to drive drunk and kill a human being.
Aiken became a leader in an anti-drunken driving movement that changed American society.
“I was just following my heart in drawing attention to a system that was routinely failing the victims of drunken drivers,” she says in the latest issue of the RID newsletter.
Aiken, who is now a 90-year-old grandmother, is still president of the organization, its advisor and a voting member of the RID board. This fall, she passed the day-to-day duties to her
son William Aiken. Her daughter Jane Wyatt Aiken is the newsletter editor and manages the accounting and mailing list. Doris’ husband, William S. Aiken Sr., who was vice president
and general manager of RID, died in 2004.
Doris launched her campaign on Dec. 5, 1977 after she saw a story in The Daily Gazette about a horrible accident in Glenville.
Karen and Timothy Morris, ages 17 and 19, were hit by a driver who was drunk at the wheel with an open can of beer between his knees. Timothy was killed instantly. Karen died 48
hours later at Ellis Hospital.
When Doris contacted the district attorney’s office, she found out that the driver would not go to jail or lose his license. It was only an accident, she was told.
With the help of her church, Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady, in 1978, Doris put together a group that became RID, America’s first anti-drunken driving organization.
By 1983, RID had 130 chapters in 30 states.
Today, the non-profit RID USA Inc. has 35 chapters in 25 states that operate autonomously.
RID has never taken money from the alcohol industry and is funded entirely through its book and video sales, charitable donations and grants.
When it comes to the cause, Doris remains as passionate as ever.
Earlier this month, The Gazette visited Doris and her son in their home near Ellis Hospital, which for 38 years has also been the headquarters for RID.
Faith in people
A gracious woman with pale ginger hair, Doris was eager to talk about RID and the volunteers that keep it going.
“I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to make a difference. And I’m proud about the people I got to know. All different kinds of people,” she says.
Looking forward, Doris says she has faith that younger generations will keep the fight going and change attitudes even more.
“I feel very confident that we’re going to get rid of the drunk driving menace in this country as well as other countries,” she says.
Young people and drunk driving is one of her special interests.
“We have a high level of young people being killed. It’s difficult for young people to grasp that,” she says.
“They have an obligation, no matter how terrific the next beer party is, to just say ‘no.’ ”
Young people can be the “leaders in the new growing field of people who do not drink and drive,” she says. “And when that happens, we’re going to see
fewer mangled cars and fewer broken hearts. These accidents with young people need never happen.”
And parents must be the role models, she says.
“We shouldn’t let our children get the idea that it’s really cool to go to a drinking party.”
When you host a party, look out for people who are drinking too much and make sure their spouse, partner or friend knows that that person won’t be able
to drive home, she advises.
“You have an obligation to report anyone who is inebriated on the road or if they are going to leave your house from a party.”
Another party tip is to pick a family member who can drive someone home if needed.
“That’s what a host has to do. You have to love your guests and take care of them if you are going to serve drinks.”
For more information about RID, go to www.rid-usa.org or phone 888-283-5144.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, email@example.com or on Twitter @bjorngazette.