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I was devastated to learn of the death of Doris Aiken, the founder of Remove Intoxicated Drivers. A dear dear friend, colleague and mentor of over 36 years.
Doris Aiken single-handedly put drunk driving “on the map” in this country. Inspired by the chance hearing of a radio report of a young brother and sister killed by a drunk driver in the Albany area – whom she didn’t know but who happened to be the same ages as her own son and daughter! – she exploded into what would become her life’s work.
She served as an inspiration to countless community activists, creating and leading an organization which quickly became a nation-wide force against drunk driving. She was expert in utilizing the media to spread her message, even in the face of a boycott to try to prevent this. She was able to navigate the byzantine waters of the legislative process, being a stickler for facts and details, and able to confront legislators on their own intellectual and procedural level. Inured to the inevitable set-backs this process repeatedly brought, she persevered and eventually saw the adoption of major laws and technological advances which we now take for granted – administrative revocation of licenses, acceptance of breathalyzer evidence, lower BAC levels — especially for younger drivers — seatbelts, airbags, roadblocks, the ignition interlock device, to name a few.
I had never heard of Doris Aiken until a day in February, 1981, and the occurrence of a DWI tragedy “heard ‘round the world” – or at least around New York State. A group of Jewish teen-agers attending a state-wide religious convention in Utica were struck from behind by a drunk driver while walking home from evening services to the homes in which they were being accommodated. Three girls were killed – one from Rochester and two from Binghamton, one of the latter being my own cousin.
A few days later, shocked citizens in Binghamton arranged a public meeting at Lourdes Hospital in hopes of “doing something” to address the DWI problem. Somehow, Doris Aiken heard about our plans, and called to ask if she might come down for the meeting. We had never heard of RID, but told her we’d be pleased to have her come. She was accompanied by Sen. William Smith, who had himself lost a daughter to a drunk driver, and who had just introduced a major piece of legislation – the STOP DWI program. She also brought, and showed, the film, “Until I Get Caught,” which had been produced by the Ithaca RID chapter, PARKIT, and Dick Cavett.
The upshot was that we formed RID-Broome County, the fourth chapter (after the Capital Area, Ithaca and Rochester) in a list that would eventually number about 140.
We’ll miss her terribly, and her pioneering work will always be remembered.
George F Gitlitz, MD, retired member of RID-USA’s national board of directors.
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