Thank you, Bill. It is a pleasure to be here on behalf of Chairman Engleman Conners and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The Safety Board shares a mutual goal with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and The Century Council to assist state legislatures in developing effective legislation to combat hardcore drinking drivers, which is why we are together here in Annapolis.
The NTSB is well known for investigating airline crashes. Though that is one of our high priorities, the Board is additionally responsible for the other areas of transportation safety - marine, pipeline, railroad, and highway. We deal with each of them just as seriously. It doesn't matter if a loved one is lost in an aviation crash -- or a highway crash - the loss is equally tragic and painful.
Today, we are here to support legislators in their effort to eliminate the tragic loss of life that results from repeated drunk driving, and to raise awareness of the burden to the public from drunk driving crashes. In 2002, 17,419 persons were killed in vehicle crashes involving alcohol, with an associated economic cost exceeding $17 Billion.
Half of these crashes were caused by hardcore drinking drivers - offenders who repeatedly drive with high blood alcohol concentrations. This annual loss of life is a human tragedy with significant public costs that should not be tolerated.
In 1998, hard core drinking drivers were involved in 40 percent of alcohol-related fatalities. In 2001, hard core drinking drivers were involved in over 46 percent of alcohol-related fatalities. And research by the Century Council shows that these drivers are now responsible for 58 percent of the alcohol-related fatalities. This is clearly going in the wrong direction - a direction with increasingly tragic consequences and increasing burdens in the form of publicly borne costs.
There are steps we can take to reverse this trend. In 2000, the Safety Board released a study on effective countermeasures and developed a model program for deterring hard core drinking drivers that includes:
- sobriety checkpoints,
- vehicle sanctions,
- eliminating diversion programs and plea bargaining to non-alcohol-related offenses, and
- enhanced penalties for high BAC offenders.
The model program is designed to enable prosecutors, courts, probation and treatment professionals to intervene in a significant manner at the very first DWI arrest.
Getting the hard core drinking driver off the road is one of the Board's top priorities. It is on our list of Most Wanted Safety improvements.
This afternoon, I will be testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on House Bill 763, a bill designed to establish a high BAC offense in the State of Maryland. And when the time comes, the NTSB will be here in Annapolis to lend its support to bills recognizing the need for better DWI laws and taking action to do something about it in Maryland!