Radio Address to the Nation on Drunk Driving

December 17, 1983

My fellow Americans:

This is the season when we appreciate our families and friends and spend time looking for just the right gifts for them. We arrange our homes with decorations and make an effort to prepare for special moments. Yet, during these holiday festivities our loved ones are in danger. That's why I want to ask you today for your help.

Unless all of us unite to take action, thousands of our citizens, perhaps a member of your own family, will suffer terrible deaths. I wish I were overstating the case, but I'm not. And there are tens of thousands of parents who have lost children. Their heartaches and tears are testament to the magnitude of the threat that hangs over us.

If I were alerting you about a foreign power brutally murdering tens of thousands of our fellow citizens, a cry for bold action would sweep our country. Well, I'm not referring to a foreign enemy; I'm talking about drunk drivers.

Due to the irresponsible use of alcohol, 25,000 Americans -- men, women, and children -- are killed each year. The statistics are overwhelming. We've lost more than a quarter of a million of our countrymen to drunk drivers in the last 10 years. That's 500 every week, 70 every day, one every 20 minutes.

Every year, nearly 700,000 people are injured in alcohol-related crashes. Every one of these casualties is someone's son or daughter, husband or wife, mother, father, or friend. The personal tragedies behind the statistics are enough to break your heart.

A few days ago, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Price of Johnson City, Tennessee, joined me at the White House to proclaim this week National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week. It was fitting they be here. About 2\1/2\ years ago, their son Timothy was killed by a drunk driver. Then, just a year ago, their daughter Elizabeth was killed when a drunk driver veered onto her side of the road.

All of us can share the grief of these parents who lost two of their children in separate incidents. But now is not just the time for sympathy; now is the time to act. The Prices were at the White House when I officially received the report of our Commission on Drunk Driving.

Commission Chairman John Volpe and the other members took their jobs seriously, and they've made some suggestions you ought to know about. Right off the bat, we should understand there are no magic solutions. It'll take a long-term commitment, coming at the problem from different directions.

The first step, according to the Commission, is making sure that our friends and neighbors -- as well as the people in the city halls and in the State legislatures -- fully comprehend what we're facing.

Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole has been speaking tirelessly around the country on this issue. Just this week, the Licensed Beverage Information Council, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, and Secretary Dole joined in unveiling this year's Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk campaign to enlist all of us to protect our friends from themselves. This is an excellent example of the private sector and government working together to attack a serious problem.

We must change the lax attitude about driving when there's even a question about sobriety. We'll need to be stern at times, but putting our foot down can save someone's life.

The Commission found out that some of our laws and law enforcement are lax, as well. Some drunks have been arrested more than once, but they're still out there on the highways. What greater travesty could there be than knowing your loved one was killed by an individual already convicted of drunk driving?

We must make it harder on the first-timers. And we must make sure that repeat offenders are taken off the road. The Commission made numerous, specific recommendations, and we're moving forward on them. But in a free society such as ours, with the separation of powers between Federal, State, and local governments, it will take all of us working together.

Much of the credit for focusing public attention goes to the grassroots campaign of organizations like MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, and RID, Remove Intoxicated Drivers. The activists in these organizations, many of whom have lost loved ones to drunk drivers, have helped strengthen laws and law enforcement at the State and local level. And in those States that have toughened their laws and their enforcement, lives have been saved.

The automobile has always been close to the hearts of Americans. We've valued our mobility as a precious freedom, and individual ownership of a car has provided greater mobility to more people than ever before. If there's one lesson we've learned in the last 200 years, it is that with freedom must come responsibility.

Some of our citizens have been acting irresponsibly. Drinking and driving has caused the death of many innocent people. It is up to us to put a stop to it, not in a spirit of vengeance but in the spirit of love.

I pray that each of you will have a safe and happy holiday. Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.