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Remarks at National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month Event, Washington, DC
Jim Hall
National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month Event, Washington, DC

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.  I'm honored to be here this morning, to join with Jerry Malone from the Department of Transportation, John Moulden from the National Commission Against Drunk Driving, Carolyn Nunally from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Millie Webb from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, our state and local enforcement officers, and victims of drunk drivers to focus much needed attention on this important issue.

Every day, the staff of the National Transportation Safety Board is called upon to investigate transportation crashes  - each of them needless and each of them tragic.    We investigate those crashes in hopes of finding the cause and preventing another one from occurring.  Undoubtedly, the most frustrating investigations are of crashes that could have been easily prevented - simply by someone refusing to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

More than 94 percent of all transportation fatalities occur on our highways -- 38 percent of those involve alcohol.  More people are killed each week (307) in alcohol-related crashes than die in a major aviation accident.   In 1998, nearly 16,000 individuals were killed and another 305,000 people were injured in crashes caused by alcohol-impaired drivers.  In this decade, 183,000 Americans have died in alcohol-related crashes.  Ask Carolyn and Mike about the importance of the loss of just one life.  This toll is intolerable and should be unacceptable to all Americans.  We have the means to prevent these crashes.  We must have the personal and political will to do what we know needs to be done.

Granted, we've made progress toward reducing alcohol-related fatalities.  We have age 21 and zero tolerance laws in all 50 States and most States have administrative license revocation laws for impaired drivers.  These and other laws and programs have resulted in a 37 percent reduction in alcohol-related fatalities since 1982. But, it's not enough.  We must - and can - do more - as drivers, as parents, as citizens, and as public officials.  It's time for us to take greater responsibility for our own actions.  But, more importantly, it's time for us to take the necessary action to prevent impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel and to enact and enforce strong penalties for those who do.   Legislators must enact effective laws; law enforcement must vigorously enforce those laws; and the media must keep the aftermath of these crimes before the public.

Statistics tell us that drivers ages 21-34, and particularly young male drivers, are among those who are most likely to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  We need to direct more efforts to address this high-risk population.  One of the best reinforcements for sober driving is a checkpoint program - such as those in North Carolina and Tennessee.

 We also know that drivers with a high blood alcohol content (BAC) are a serious threat to others.  It's time for legislators and courts to aggressively respond to this problem.  We need to adopt laws for high BAC first offenders that gets them into treatment and sanction programs that do the most good.  Convicted offenders should have a lower, perhaps even a zero, BAC limit.  Those offenders who continue to drive impaired and endanger others need to be separated from their licenses and their cars.  Minnesota administratively separates drinking drivers with multiple convictions from their vehicle.  California immobilizes and confiscates the cars of suspended and unlicensed drivers.  Other states should need to be equally aggressive - anyone who refuses to take an alcohol test when arrested should be severely sanctioned.
Earlier this year, I challenged the governors of every state and territory, through the National Governors' Association, to make highway safety their number one priority.  I asked them to take the lead in protecting the safety of their citizens and preventing further tragedies on our roadways.  Their citizens - indeed, all Americans - have the right to expect to be as safe as possible when travelling on the nation's roads and highways.  They shouldn't have to worry about encountering someone who's too impaired to be sharing the road with them.