Remarks on Signing the National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week Proclamation

December 13, 1982

Governor Volpe, Secretaries who are here, if you suddenly see some of those who are among you breaking and running for the Hill, I understand that a vote is coming up. So, I'll say my few words as fast as I can.

For too many years, people have approached the problem of drunken driving as an unavoidable disaster like hurricanes or floods. Well, we've learned that's not the case. We've learned we're not helpless. Action can be taken when the people are concerned enough, and the people are not only concerned now, they're mad. They want the slaughter on the highways to stop. They want those who threaten their public safety to be held accountable for their actions.

Each year approximately 25,000 lives are lost in alcohol-related auto accidents, and I'm delighted to hear that that figure has been considerably reduced now as a result of this Commission's work. An additional 700,000 each year are injured in crashes involving alcohol. Our loved ones are not being killed in drunk driving ``accidents'' -- and I put the word ``accidents'' in quotation marks -- they're dying because some of the Nation's motorists have chosen to turn their vehicles into weapons.

Citizens groups, legislators, judges, police officers, people from all over the country are saying, ``That's enough. Get these killers off our roads, and get them off now.'' Last April I appointed this Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving to explore the problem more fully and to work with State and local governments in developing effective programs.

John Volpe, as Chairman of the Commission, has given us some encouraging information as a part of this interim report, which I look forward to reading. Apparently, a potential drunk driver who knows he stands a good chance of being caught and prosecuted is less likely to drive at all. And for this deterrent to be efficient, however, State and local law enforcement officials must make it clear that they mean business and that the drunk or drug-influenced driver will be the prime target for apprehension and conviction.

And clearly there's no single solution to the drunk driving problem. The Commission has noted several approaches, I know, including a New York State program that is self-supporting, as John was talking about. It pays for its expenses through fines levied on drunken drivers. We're going to give careful consideration to all of the Commission's findings and ideas, and we're going to look hard at what the Federal Government can do to help State and local governments combat drunk driving.

Fastening the seat belt is the best thing that the individual can do to lessen the threat. But as we launch Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week, we do so with increasing momentum. There's much to be done. But the American people are beginning to see progress. Laws are changing, and traffic deaths are declining in those States that already have strong drunk driving programs.

In Maine the highway death rate has dropped to an alltime low, and alcohol-related highway crashes have been reduced 42 percent since stronger laws went into effect. In Maryland the highway death rate is at a 19-year low due to strict enforcement and laws against drunk driving.

I'm confident the future will see a sharper drop in traffic deaths as this country takes the strong steps necessary to make our nation's highways safe again.

I also want to express my gratitude for the leadership and the energy many Members of Congress and the others have shown on this issue. And I've asked them to join me here this afternoon. If I knew which way they were going to vote, I'd know whether to talk faster or slower. [Laughter]

But let us resolve to make National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week the beginning of a national campaign that will not end until death by drunk and drugged drivers is brought under control.

So, together, with conscience and commitment, we can reduce the menace of these drivers and protect the lives of our fellow citizens. And now I have one more thing to do, and that is to sign the proclamation.

Note: The President spoke at 1:23 p.m. at the signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.