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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 26, 1998
                             TO THE NATION

                          The Roosevelt Room

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. December is a month for families, a season of celebration and anticipation -- especially for our children. But with alcohol flowing at parties and millions of families taking to the road to see friends and relatives, the holiday season can also be a season of tragedy. Last December, more than 1,300 Americans lost their lives in alcohol-related crashes. Who knows how many presents under the Christmas tree were left unopened, presents for a child killed by a drunk driver.

Today, I want to talk about how we can work together to make our roads safer for our families. For a generation, drunk driving has been one of America's greatest public safety challenges. The sight of a car weaving through traffic is an all too familiar and frightening one for many Americans. Over the past decade, spurred to action by grassroots activists such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and with the leadership of the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, America has worked hard to keep drunk drivers off our roads with increased public awareness, stronger laws and stricter enforcement.

My administration has made safety our number one transportation priority. In 1995, we helped states make it illegal for anyone under 21 to drive with any amount of alcohol in their system. We put young people on notice: just one drink before driving -- one beer, one glass of wine, one shot -- and you can lose your license.

There's good news to report. Last year, the number of people killed in alcohol-related crashes dropped to an all-time low. For the first time since we started keeping track in 1975, alcohol-related deaths accounted for less than 40 percent of all traffic deaths and dropped by five percent among 15- to 20-year-olds. But we have much more to do.

In a report I'm releasing today, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that in 1996 more than a quarter of all drivers -- 46.5 million -- use drugs, alcohol or both within two hours of driving. Ask any parent, any family, anyone who has lost a loved one to an alcohol related crash -- one impaired driver is one too many.

So today I'm announcing that the Justice and Transportation Departments will strengthen their efforts in the new year, through grants to states and other incentives, to enforce underage drinking laws, to carry out alcohol impaired driving prevention programs and to pass and enforce strong state highway safety legislation.

The most effective action we can take to make our roads even safer is to set the national impaired driving standard at .08 percent blood alcohol content. No one will ever doubt that a person with that much blood alcohol is unfit to drive after meeting Brenda Frazier. This spring at the White House, she described the horror of watching a drunk driver run over her nine-year-old daughter at a school bus stop. The driver's blood alcohol content: .08 percent.

This year I worked with members of Congress to make .08 the law of the land. Tragically, the special interest blocked this lifesaving measure. I am determined to succeed in setting a .08 standard in the new year. It's the right thing to do. In the meantime, I've asked Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to work to make .08 the rule on federal property. I commend the 16 states and the District of Columbia, who have already adopted the stricter standard.

But every American family also must take responsibility for safer roads for all our families. Tell your neighbors and teach your own children about the dangers of drunk driving. And as we gather this week to ring in a new year, stop and think before getting behind the wheel. If you've had too much to drink, hand your keys to a designated driver. Together, we can make sure the new year is, indeed, a safe and happy one for all Americans.

Thanks for listening.