Public Papers - 1989
Remarks on Signing the National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week Proclamation
Thank you all for being here, and welcome to the White House. I'm glad we have here several of our administration's leaders in the fight against drunk driving and alcohol abuse. Of course, our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Lou Sullivan, is involved; Secretary Skinner, of Transportation; Jim Kolstad; and of course, Doug Wead, here in the White House keeping me up to date with the work that many of you are doing. And I'm also delighted to see Members of the United States Congress here and the Senate.
I want to thank you and all those you represent. I had a chance to meet just briefly with some of the leaders of these groups out in the hall. But you've shown dedication and hard work, and that's gone into one of the most amazing success stories of the 1980's -- the all-American campaign to reduce the awful toll of drunk driving.
America's lasting love affair with the automobile is a reminder of our roots as a nation of people on the move, a reminder of our love for individual choice and individual freedom. It speaks of the open road and wide-open spaces, of a people whose only limits are in the reaches of the imagination. But individual freedom means nothing without individual responsibility -- because for far too many Americans, especially kids, especially young Americans, the promise of youth has been destroyed, wiped out by one of the most deadly scourges ever to strike modern times. And it's as crippling as crack, as random as gang violence, and it's killing more kids than both combined.
Drunk driving is a grave crisis. Drunk driving is a continuing crisis. And I agree completely that drunk driving is a national crisis. As Lou Sullivan reminds me, drunk and drugged driving is one of America's largest health and public safety problems. You know the statistics -- you, above all, know the statistics.
Let me just cite that each year almost 500,000 Americans sustain injuries in alcohol-related crashes. That's like hospitalizing the entire population of the State of Wyoming every year. Even more staggering is the loss of life. Each and every year, our nation's highways witness the death of almost 50,000 Americans, an annual toll that would nearly fill the polished granite walls of the Vietnam Memorial. Fully half of all these deaths are alcohol related. And for young Americans between 16 and 35, drunk driving is simply the single leading cause of death. But as we learned from the roll call inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial, the statistics can't ever tell the real story. Many of you gathered here know firsthand the real tragedy, the individual tragedy, that each of these senseless deaths inflicts.
The death of a child, any child, is one of the most awful wastes, one of the most painful experiences imaginable. But like so many of you, we learned there is wisdom in the pain of any loss. Barbara tells how it was after our own daughter's death that she really threw herself into volunteering and discovered something that most of you have known for many years -- that by helping others, we also help ourselves. This simple lesson has become one of the cornerstones of the better America that you and I are working to build. You're devoting your lives not only to serving others but also to saving others, and the good you have done is nothing short of outstanding and astounding.
In the past 6 years drunk-driving deaths fell an estimated 20 percent, even though total miles traveled rose over 25 percent. That's due to tougher State laws and enforcement, the uniform national drinking age we worked together to enact, and the rise of effective citizen groups like those we salute and honor here today. You helped provoke greater public awareness, a sense of responsibility, a sense of outrage. And speaking not only as President but as a father and as a grandfather, you have my respect, my admiration, and my thanks.
But there's much more to be done. Our challenge for the 1990's is to make further progress and not let up the pressure until the scourge of drunk and drugged driving is gone once and for all. And while primary responsibility for highway safety must properly remain with our cities and States, I have told Sam Skinner that the fight against drunk and drugged driving is one of the key transportation goals of this administration. He's doing a first-class job; his agency is redoubling its efforts in this cause. Just this year, Transportation has expanded funding to train police in detecting drugged drivers.
We've provided technical and financial assistance to launch State-run sobriety checkpoint programs, and our Justice Department has gone to the Supreme Court to fight for the right to use those safety checkpoints. We're also assisting State governments in upgrading their own laws, working with groups such as RID and MADD to provide training for their State and local members. And we're launching renewed public service ad campaigns to keep this issue high on the national agenda.
All these efforts are important. But in the final analysis, the success of our efforts depends not on what happens inside the White House but what happens inside your house. We must teach our children that alcohol is a drug and any irresponsible drug use is wrong, and that driving drunk is a crime -- it's a violent crime. And we must teach them that choices have consequences and that some of life's worst consequences can be avoided.
As individuals, we must not only avoid the deadly combination of drinking and driving but also speak out and set an example for our families, friends, coworkers. You know what that means: Encourage the use of designated drivers. Be a responsible host in your home or at an office party. Make sure alternative transportation is available. Refuse to ride with drivers who are impaired.
The holidays are a time of light -- Christmas trees and Menorah candles, starlight, candlelight -- lights of joy and remembrance. And there was a special candlelight ceremony just last night. It was in Orlando, at an annual vigil where families and other drunk-driving victims from 50 States gather in prayer and in hope. I know some of you were there, and you were very much in our thoughts. For in the end, my message to each of you today is a simple one: Each Point of Light matters. Each time your message gets through can mean one life changed and another life saved. I think of Kentucky and that awful tragedy, and so many others around the world, especially at Christmas. And I want to reiterate: Each Point of Light matters.
Thank you for coming here to the White House at this beautiful time of year, a time most appropriate to highlight the concerns we all feel. God bless you during this holiday season. Godspeed you in your noble work. And now I am just pleased to death to sign this proclamation and this joint resolution. Thank you all very much for coming.
Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to James L. Kolstad, Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and R. Douglas Wead, Special Assistant to the President for Public Liaison. H.J. Res. 429, approved December 11, was assigned Public Law No. 101 - 212. The proclamation is listed in Appendix E at the end of this volume.