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Transportation Secretary Slater Announces Historic Decline In Alcohol-Related Traffic Deaths

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Rodney E. Slater

Transportation Secretary Slater Announces Historic Decline In Alcohol-Related Traffic Deaths

August 24, 1998

NHTSA 43-98
August 24, 1998
Contact: Tim Hurd
Tel. No. (202) 366-9550

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater today announced that the percentage of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States dropped to an historic low in 1997. Last year, 38.6 percent or 16,189 of all traffic fatalities were alcohol-related, down from 40.9 percent of 42,065 traffic deaths in 1996 and dramatically lower than the 57.3 percent of 43,945 traffic fatalities in 1982.

"This is good news but we must continue to do more to ensure that this decline continues," President Clinton said.

The 1997 figures marks the first time since record-keeping began in 1975 that alcohol-related traffic deaths dropped below 40 percent of the total.

"Safety is President Clinton's highest transportation priority," Secretary Slater said. "A strong message and tough laws are bringing about an important change in society's attitude toward drunken driving, but we must continue our efforts to reduce the number of these tragedies even further."

President Clinton advocates tough impaired-driving legislation and has encouraged states to adopt .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as the national standard for drunken driving. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which President Clinton signed June 9, authorized $500 million in incentive grants to states that adopt .08 BAC laws.

The President also called on states to enact zero tolerance laws for young drivers who drink and drive, and that goal was met in June when South Carolina became the 50th state to do so.

Alcohol-related deaths among teens aged 15-20 dropped 5 percent from 2,324 in 1996 to 2,209 in 1997, according to figures from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which is compiled by the department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"By passing tough laws, states are sending a strong message to teen-aged drivers: It's not cool and it's not legal to drink," said NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez, M.D.

The FARS also showed that total traffic fatalities dropped slightly to 41,967 in 1997 compared to 42,065 in 1996. Despite the decline, 16,189 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 1997.

The fatality rate remained at 1.7 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the face of increased travel, higher speed limits and changes in the vehicle fleet. NHTSA estimated that seat belts, air bags and child safety seats saved 11,904 lives in 1997.

Reducing the number of alcohol-related fatalities is part of the department's three-pronged comprehensive strategy to reduce the number of traffic fatalities on U.S. roads. In February, 1995, the department, joined by partners in the highway safety effort, set a goal of reducing alcohol-related traffic deaths to 11,000 annually by the year 2005. In April 1998, Secretary Slater added aggressive driving to the department's comprehensive strategy to improve highway safety, ranking it with drunken driving and seat belt use as top highway safety priorities.

The FARS also shows that:

* Of the 957 under-21 drinking drivers killed in traffic crashes, most (792) were killed in crashes at night.
* The highest percentage of drinking driver deaths, 49.8 percent, was in the 21-34 year old age group. The lowest, 5.9 percent, was among drivers 75 and older.
* Among pedestrians killed by motor vehicles, 34.2 percent had measurable levels of alcohol in their blood; 22.8 percent of fatally injured bicyclists also had been drinking.
* Utah had the lowest percentage of alcohol-related fatalities in 1997, 20.6 percent, followed by New York with 27.4 percent. Kansas and Arkansas were the only other states with alcohol-related fatality rates under 30 percent.
* Among the 15 states with laws setting the threshold for drunken driving at .08 BAC, 10 continued to register declines in alcohol-related fatalities. One state, Kansas, had a dramatic reduction in 1997 to 29.5 percent from 40.2 percent in 1996.

Further information on the FARS is available on NHTSA's web site, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov. title="www.nhtsa.dot.gov"

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