Remarks of Ellen Engleman Conners
Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
before the
NHTSA Region III Checkpoint Strikeforce
Virginia Kickoff
June 29, 2004


Good morning. My name is Ellen Engleman Conners. It is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and to be here - in my new home State - to kick off an important, life-saving program, The Virginia Checkpoint Strikeforce.

The Safety Board works everyday to improve safety for the traveling public in all modes of transportation by investigating accidents, determining probable cause, and making recommendations to prevent such accidents from happening in the future. For us, this is not just our job, it's our mission!

We know that, every year, over 90 percent of transportation-related deaths occur on the highway, and alcohol plays a significant role in those deaths. Since I assumed the position of Safety Board Chairman, my priority has been and remains reducing alcohol-related crashes, injuries, and fatalities, particularly those involving the hard-core drinking driver.

The Board defines the hard-core drinking driver as someone arrested or convicted of multiple impaired driving offenses, or someone arrested for a high blood alcohol concentration (0.15% or higher).

The hard-core drinking driver puts us all at risk because he or she repeatedly drives after drinking, often to excess.

We feel so strongly about the impaired driving problem that our model program to address hard-core drinking driving is on the Board's list of Most Wanted safety recommendations.

The Board's model program is based on two key components: strong laws and effective programs, especially strong enforcement. Virginia is certainly doing its part to implement both components.

Last month, we celebrated the signing of 25 bills, sending a very clear message that the Commonwealth of Virginia is serious about impaired driving, and especially about the hard core drinking driver. These new laws:

Many people helped improve Virginia's DWI countermeasure program, starting with the Governor's Task Force to Combat Driving Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol. I want to thank Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall and Secretary of Transportation Whittington Clement for chairing this task force that got the ball rolling.

Then there are the leaders who took the ball and got the legislation enacted including:

This weekend, Virginia will put in place, statewide, a strong enforcement program, by participating for the third time in NHTSA's Region III (Mid-Atlantic) program, Checkpoint Strikeforce. The program includes:

Strong laws on the books are not enough. Impaired drivers need to feel that they can be arrested and prosecuted for violating those strong laws. High visibility enforcement, such as Checkpoint Strikeforce, is designed to do just that, and to deter people from putting others at risk by increasing law enforcement presence.

The laws signed last month and the checkpoints starting this weekend will save the lives of Virginians now and for years to come.

Now, I have the pleasure of recognizing the extraordinary leadership of members of the Virginia General Assembly. The Safety Board is recognizing the sponsors of legislation that is consistent with, and implements, the Board's model program for reducing the tragedies caused by hard core drinking drivers by presenting a State Safety Leadership Award today.

The citation reads: For Outstanding Leadership In Promoting and Adopting Laws To Reduce Alcohol-Related Fatalities in Virginia, Especially Those Involving Hard Core Drinking Drivers

I am honored to present the State Safety Leadership Award to

Finally, I would like to recognize one of the unsung heroes in our nationwide fight to stop hardcore drinking drivers. The Governor's Task Force was his inspiration. He was the glue that held it together and the grease that made it work, but his humility wouldn't allow him to admit it. We appreciate his counsel and assistance to the Board's efforts in the legislature. For these and many more reasons, the Safety Board gives its State Safety Leadership Award to Assistant Motor Vehicle Commissioner Vincent M. Burgess. The citation reads:

For Outstanding and Long-Term Highway Safety Leadership Including the Governor's Commission on Impaired Driving and In Promoting Laws To Reduce Alcohol-Related Fatalities in Virginia, Especially Those Involving Hard Core Drinking Drivers

Congratulations to all our awardees.

When you drive from here, remember your best defense against drinking drivers is to wear your seatbelt. Every time. Thank you.