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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 26, 1998


December 26, 1998

In his radio address to the nation, President Clinton will release the findings of a new study showing that in 1996, an estimated 46 million American drivers used alcohol and/or drugs within two hours prior to getting behind the wheel of a car. To address this problem, President Clinton will announce: (1) a renewed challenge to Congress to set a nationwide drunk driving standard of .08 blood alcohol content (BAC); (2) the issuance of an interim final rule by the Department of Transportation to strengthen state efforts against drinking and driving; and (3) the availability of $25 million in Justice Department grants to combat underage drinking.

Drinking and Driving Remains a Serious Problem

New survey documents alcohol and drug use among drivers. The President will release the findings of a new study which estimates that in 1996, 28 percent -- or 46.5 million -- of the 166 million drivers in the U.S. used drugs, alcohol, or both within two hours prior to driving. The vast majority -- 38 million people -- drank alcohol within two hours prior to driving. This first-time study is a collaborative effort of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The findings are based on data from the 1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and interviews with nearly 12,000 drivers.

Taking Action to Keep Our Streets Safe

Fighting for a tough national impaired-driving standard. President Clinton will call on Congress to enact legislation next year to make .08 BAC the legal limit for impaired driving. If all states had .08 laws, alcohol-related deaths would decrease by about 500 to 600 each year. The President supports bipartisan legislation that would give states three years to enact .08 legislation, on penalty of losing highway funds. Sixteen states and D.C. have already adopted .08 laws: UT, OR, ME, CA, VT, KS, NC, NM, NH, FL, VI, HI, AL, ID, IL, and WA.

Giving states new incentives. The President will announce the issuance of a new rule by the Transportation Department to help strengthen state efforts to combat impaired driving. The interim final rule will set forth new criteria by which states can qualify for grants from the Alcohol-Impaired Driving Grant Incentive Program, including: imposing a system of graduated licenses for young drivers, testing BAC levels in fatal crashes, establishing programs to target drinking and driving by young adults (ages 21-34), and enforcing graduated penalties for high-BAC drivers. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, signed into law by President Clinton this summer, authorizes $219.5 million over 6 years -- a 65 percent increase in funding -- to continue the Alcohol-Impaired Driving Grant Incentive Program.

Keeping youth sober and safe. The President will announce that the Justice Department will make $25 million available to help states curb underage drinking. About one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities involving youths ages 15 to 20 are alcohol-related. The Combating Underage Drinking initiative, administered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, will provide grants to support and enhance the enforcement and prevention efforts of states and localities to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages by minors.

President Clinton: A Record of Leadership

Fewest alcohol-related deaths since 1975. Earlier this year, the Transportation Department released data showing that the rate of alcohol-related crashes fell from nearly 41 percent in 1996 to 38.6 percent in 1997 -- the first time that the rate dropped below 40 percent and the fewest number of alcohol-related fatalities (16,189) since the Transportation Department began keeping records in 1975. Since 1982, the number of alcohol-related fatalities has dropped by more than a third.

Zero tolerance for underage drinking and driving. In 1995, President Clinton fought for and signed legislation requiring states to have "zero alcohol tolerance" laws for underage drinking and driving by October 1, 1998, on penalty of losing highway funds. At the time the President signed the legislation, just 24 states and D.C. had zero tolerance laws. Today, all 50 states have zero tolerance laws on the books.