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

December 13, 1983

Well, John -- Governor Volpe, I thank you very much for this report. I thank all of you, too. I'm delighted that so many were able to join us for this important event. Secretary Dole, distinguished Members of Congress, members of our Commission, concerned parents and all who've worked so hard to prevent drunk and drugged driving -- and, of course, the surprise, Elizabeth, that you had here, I'm most grateful for that. And I'm going to take it back to the office, and I'm going to read all those names that are on that long sheet of paper, I assure you.

Well, you've seen the beautiful Christmas decorations that are already up here in Washington. One of my favorites is the banner down near the National Christmas Tree. It says, ``Peace on earth to men of good will.'' A little change in the usual expression there, but I think it's pretty suitable. We as Americans across the country, as we begin to gather with family and friends, today we're helping to make this holiday season what it ought to be -- a time of peace and not of tragedy.

Drunk or drugged driving accounts for annual costs of over $20 billion in medical and rehabilitation costs, insurance payments, and lost production. There was a higher figure on the air last night given on some of the news, much higher, several times higher than that for the total cost if you added in a number of other elements, all of them which could be associated with alcohol and the abuse of it.

Each year drunk or drugged drivers cause half of all the highway fatalities, injure some 700,000 men and women and children. For those between the ages of 16 and 24, alcohol-related crashes represent the leading cause of death. I know the members of the committee have found out all of these statistics.

A drunk or drugged person behind the wheel of an automobile isn't a driver; he or she is a machine for destruction. The American people have paid the bills, seen the damage, and felt the heartache, and I think they're saying, ``Enough.''

Last year, when we observed National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week, I said that if we worked hard enough we'd make progress, and as John just told us, we have. Twenty-two States and the District of Columbia have enacted tougher drunk-driving laws. And in part, because of those actions last year the highway death toll in America did drop, and the total drop was 10 percent.

Reports so far this year show that the annual death toll is still dropping, and again John gave us the figures on that. And the credit for this great achievement goes to you here today and to thousands of others throughout our country -- have so diligently pursued community and legal action to end drunk driving.

Your most important contribution has been a change in public attitude. Today, drunk driving isn't a bad habit to be excused; it's a crime to be stopped.

On behalf of the American people, I thank you. Let me also say a word of thanks to the members of our Commission on Drunk Driving. You've done an outstanding job, both in heightening public awareness of the problem and in developing recommendations for dealing with it.

And a special thanks to John Volpe. John, you've had a long career of distinguished public service. I could call you, as I did, Governor, because that's a title you get for life. Mr. Secretary or Mr. Ambassador, that's another title you get for life. But today, you're Mr. Chairman. And in recognition of the leadership that you've given to this Commission, and of your faithful service to our country, I am proud to present you with this Presidential Citizens Medal. Congratulations, my friend.

In proclaiming National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week, let's all do so with a renewed sense of commitment. Every accident that we prevent will keep fellow Americans from suffering and give our nation a merry, merrier Christmas.

So, I thank you all, and God bless you. And now I'll get over there and write with those pens that can write one word at a time. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 1:47 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. Prior to his remarks, he received the final report of the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving from Governor John Volpe. The report is entitled ``Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving -- Final Report, November 1983'' (Government Printing Office, 39 pages).

The text of the citation accompanying the Presidential Citizens Medal presented to Governor Volpe read as follows:

Governor John A. Volpe has served the people of the State and this Nation with great distinction for three decades as Governor of Massachusetts, Secretary of Transportation, Ambassador to Italy, and Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving. His acknowledged success in each of these public service roles reflects his distinguished leadership qualities and high sense of personal commitment. His outstanding work with the Commission in its campaign against drunk driving is part of an outstanding career dedicated to perserving the lives and enhancing the welfare of all Americans.