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Remarks for the 28th Annual Luncheon Meeting, Washington Regional Alcohol Program, Washington, D.C.
Earl F. Weener, PhD
am, Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Kurt, for the introduction and for the opportunity to speak to this distinguished group of highly motivated safety advocates.  As you heard, I spent 24 years working for “a small airplane manufacturer” and several years working as a fellow for the Flight Safety Foundation.  Like many of you, I have made safety my life’s work.

And the fact is that whether you are operating a plane, train, or automobile, you must be at your level-headed best.  These are all complex machines that demand your full attention and capabilities to operate safely.  There is little room for error, and therefore, no room for impairment from alcohol.  For example, aviation regulations don’t allow alcohol consumption for a minimum of 8 hours before a flight.

I know from my background in aviation that rarely are there simple, “one size fits all” solutions to improving transportation safety.  And that is most certainly true when talking about ways to eliminate impaired driving.  What deters a social drinker does not have the same effect on a hard core drinking driver.  And although there are common traits among hard core drinking drivers, no two are like.  Therefore, the problem of impaired driving demands a comprehensive response involving multiple methods of detection, prosecution, and sanction.

I may be in my first year as a Board Member, but the National Transportation Safety Board has a long history of addressing the issue of impaired driving.  In 1982, two years before enactment of the National Drinking Age Act, the Safety Board recommended that states raise the minimum legal age for drinking or purchasing alcohol to 21. 

In 1984, the Board issued its safety study entitled, “Deficiencies in Enforcement, Judicial, and Treatment Programs Related to Repeat Offender Drunk Drivers.”  In that study, the Board emphasized the necessity for BAC testing and accurate record keeping to ensure that we have a clear picture of the impaired driving problem.  We recommended against plea bargaining and diversion for impaired driving offenses.  And we asked states to evaluate all persons charged with alcohol-related traffic offenses for alcohol problems.

In 1989, we issued our report on the deadliest alcohol-related accident in history, the Carrolton, Kentucky crash and bus fire.  Approximately one and a half hours after a pickup collided with the bus and killed 27 people, the pickup driver’s blood alcohol concentration was still 0.26 percent.  As a result of our investigation, we asked states to authorize administrative license revocation, an extremely effective countermeasure that reduces recidivism and alcohol-related crashes.

Most recently, in 2000, the Board asked states to enact a model program for addressing hard core drinking drivers.  Sadly, that model program includes elements previously recommended – but never adopted. 

In 2010, we, along with our partners -- including WRAP, The Century Council, MADD, AAA, and others here today -- are still fighting to get states to enact legislation and implement programs that we know will reduce these daily, needless tragedies.  In the aviation world, there is one standard for all pilots.  Highways are regulated at the state level, but we do know what the best practices are, and we can’t get even these most basic impaired driving countermeasures established.

It is important to reflect on the many successes we have achieved.  We are here to celebrate today’s award recipients and the work all of you have done in the past year to address impaired driving such as the SoberRide program, the school-based education programs, and the Checkpoint Strikeforce Campaign.  And we should also celebrate the lowest number of highway deaths since 1950 and another decline in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities.

We must, however, remain vigilant!  Earlier this month, the NTSB released the 2009 transportation fatality data; once again, highway fatalities accounted for nearly 95 percent of all transportation-related deaths.  And according to NHTSA, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities still make up one-third of all highway fatalities.

While the reductions are heartening, we still are seeing too many people die on our streets and highways.  More than 400 people in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia were killed in 2009 in alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities; that is simply unacceptable!  Any death from an entirely preventable crash is unacceptable. 

We need to continue investing our time and resources where the data indicate we should.  The National Transportation Safety Board is committed to doing our part.  WRAP is making a difference.  And I look forward to working with all of you in the year – and years ahead -- to continue working to eliminate impaired driving and make our roadways as safe as our skies.  Thank you!