April 5, 1983
One year ago I appointed a public commission with a 12-month mandate to combat the drunk driving problem in our country. That Commission, chaired by former Secretary of Transportation John Volpe, and with broad private sector support, has performed a valuable and highly effective public service in promoting greater highway safety.
In its interim report the Commission has proposed a three-pronged approach to the problem of drunk driving, consisting of improved educational, legislative, and enforcement programs. Many of these efforts are already underway. For example, more than 500 separate pieces of legislation dealing with the drunk driving problem have been introduced in State legislatures in the 1983 sessions. Thirty-eight laws were actually enacted during the 1982 legislative sessions and, if we remember the resistance such laws encountered in the past, that's a remarkable record.
To date, three States have raised the legal drinking age. Because of the correlation between the number of drunk driving fatalities and liberal drinking-age laws, the Commission has recommended that every State set 21 as the minimum legal age for drinking alcoholic beverages. Since the Commission was established, 18 Governors have created task forces to examine their States' drunk driving problems. This brings the total to 39. I commend all those who have established a task force and encourage the others to do so as soon as possible.
The results of our collective efforts to date have been highly encouraging. California, for example, reported a 12-percent drop in highway fatalities during 1982, to the lowest level in 6 years. The commissioner of California's Highway Patrol attributes that very encouraging reduction in death and injuries to the tougher drunk driving laws that went into effect in January 1982. Minnesota, a State which has long been a leader in innovative programs to combat drunk driving, reports a 30-percent decrease in alcohol-related fatalities since 1981.
Other States are reporting similar reductions in highway tragedies as a result of the crackdown on drunk drivers. And according to the National Safety Council, traffic fatalities during the 1982 - 83 Christmas-New Year holiday season were the lowest since 1953.
The members of the Commission, responding to the outcry of individual citizens and private organizations concerned by the heavy toll drunk driving takes on our society, have worked zealously with State and local governments to reduce drunk driving. To maintain the momentum that has been established and to continue the excellent work that is underway, I have signed an Executive order extending the term of the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving to December 31, 1983.
We have not yet cured the problem of drunk driving completely, but, together, we have developed and prescribed effective legislative medicine. In true American fashion, we have heard and heeded the pleas of families demanding greater protection from the drunk driver and surer justice for his crimes. Through a concerted national effort, the threat of the alcohol-impaired driver on our highways is shrinking, and with our full and continued support, more of those who travel America's roadways will enjoy safer and longer lives.