April 14, 1982
I won't make the mistake I made last week; I'll say my few words up here. Last week I sat down where I was to sign, then said the few words, and then was reminded by all the gentlemen with the cameras that they hadn't heard anything because I wasn't in front of the microphones. [Laughter]
Well, before we get started with that, I want all Americans and everyone present to know that I am a strong believer in safety belts. It isn't true though that I have one on my saddle. [Laughter]
The White House press corps seems to have an interest in any facts and figures that I use, so I hope they report on the numbers I'm about to give, because you simply won't hear any figures more important than these. Nearly 50,000 people were killed on our highways last year. Now, out of this statistic comes an even more chilling one. Drunk driving. Drunk drivers were involved in 25,000 of those fatalities, in addition to 750,000 injuries a year. In other words, half of all automobile deaths involve drunk drivers.
During this short ceremony at least one person will be killed by a drunk driver. I'm afraid to think who it may be. All of us have heard the tragic stories about the young mother with her new baby, the grandmother out with her grandchildren, or the father and son going to Little League practice killed by a drunken driver.
Americans are outraged that such slaughter of the innocent can take place on our highways. Our anger and frustration are matched only by the grief of those who have lost loved ones in such accidents. But there are useful preventive measures we can take. The highway safety campaign that we're launching is aimed at the areas where a little prevention can pay big returns in saving lives and reducing injuries.
First, we intend to hit hard at the major threat on our highways, the drunken driver. So, today I am announcing the formation of a commission to lead this effort and to act as a catalyst for grassroots action, for even though drunk driving is a problem nationwide, it can be solved only at the State and local level. Yet the Federal Government also has a role to play. John Volpe, the former Secretary of Transportation, himself has agreed to be the Chairman of this important panel. With his leadership and that of the rest of the commission, we will advocate a strong approach to reducing drunk driving accidents across the country.
Some accidents of course will inevitably persist. But let me give you another interesting statistic. About half of all the people who die in passenger cars, light trucks, or vans could have been saved if they had been wearing seatbelts. Think of it -- half. They could have been saved with just one little click of the buckle. And so, the second part of our traffic safety program is to make motorists more aware of the importance of safety belts and their effectiveness in saving lives.
When I was Governor of California -- and I can hear my staff now saying, oh, no, no, here we go again -- [laughter] -- but back when I was Governor of California, about 25 percent of all Americans used safety belts. Today only 10 percent of our people are wearing them. We're going to get that percentage back up there where it was and then go higher.
What is already heartening about this effort to make our highways safer in the support of organizations -- or is the support, I should say, of organizations of the private sector. Citizens at the grassroots are organizing to help State and local authorities expand their fight against the drunken driver.
The mood of the Nation is ripe to make great headway against this problem, and that's exactly what we intend to do. By working together we can look forward to creating greater safety on our streets and highways.
And now, I am going to sign the proclamation that creates the commission on wearing safety belts and drunk driving.
Note: The President spoke at 11:46 a.m. at the ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House.