Thank you for the introduction, Millie. I am proud to represent the National Transportation Safety Board at this important event. I first want to commend you and MADD for convening the impaired driving summit earlier this year. NTSB staff who attended the meeting said it was a very substantive and important meeting. I also want to recognize you for your leadership in promoting MADD's participation with the Century Council and the Safety Board in the hard core drinking driver coalition. This effort has already achieved results in the states to improve impaired driving laws.
Based on its accident investigation findings, the Safety Board has made many recommendations aimed at reducing alcohol-related fatalities and injuries. We are glad to see that many of MADD's high priority recommendations from the impaired driving summit are consistent with the Board's recommendations.
Two years ago this month, the National Transportation Safety Board adopted its report on the hard core drinking driver. We concluded that if we continued doing "business as usual" the Nation could not achieve the Transportation Department's goal of no more than 11,000 alcohol-related fatalities by 2005. To get the nation back on track, the Safety Board recommended many changes in the way we and the states deal with impaired drivers.
Only 20 percent of our population consumes 83 percent of the alcohol sold in this country. It is time to recognize that those who drive after drinking, especially the hard core, comprise a very small proportion of the driving population and that they put all of us at great risk.
I want to briefly talk about three of MADD's high priority recommendations. First, every state needs to enact a primary seat belt law. Seat belts save lives and we have made great progress in getting people to buckle up. Today about 73 percent of the population wear their seat belts.
Only 18 states, and the District of Columbia, have primary enforcement laws. This is the crucial point -- states with primary enforcement laws have a 17% greater seat-belt usage rate than those states that have not passed such laws.
If every state upgraded to primary enforcement, an estimated 2,064 additional lives would be saved each year, 49,400 injuries would be avoided, and the country would save 3.4 billion dollars every year in injuries prevented.
This issue is one of the Board's Most Wanted recommendations and we commend MADD for including it as one of its priority recommendations. And to all of you here and all of you who are watching, remember your best defense against a drunk driver is to wear your seat belt.
Second, we need to focus on the hard core drinking drivers. Too many get through the revolving door of our judicial system with barely a slap on the hand. We need to implement countermeasures that are proven to be effective in preventing drinking and driving. Alcohol interlocks, for example, need to be put in offenders' cars. If offenders continue to drink and drive, states should take the license plates, immobilize or impound the cars, and for multiple offenders, confiscate the car. Home detention with electronic monitoring can work to support treatment. Jail-treatment facilities can be very effective.
States can also enact high BAC laws to get these problem drinkers sanctioned and treated earlier than ever before. States that divert offenders and erase the conviction record are just making the problem worse and they need to stop doing that. States should allow DWI offenders to drive again only if they have served their suspension, progress in treatment, install interlocks, and remain alcohol free.
These actions sound tough, but they work. The actions sound expensive, and that brings me to the third of MADD's recommendations. MADD has recommended a dedicated National Traffic Safety Fund. In 1996, the Safety Board identified the same need and recommended increased and dedicated funding at the state level, which we estimated would triple the funding available to reduce traffic crashes, fatalities and injuries. While MADD's proposal is for a national fund, it recognizes the same need and would accomplish the same goal as ours.
This is an ambitious plan. But if we are serious about reducing or eliminating alcohol-related fatalities, we have no choice. We can do it and we will do it - together. The Safety Board will be out there with MADD on this important mission.