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Speeches and Presentations

Drive Sober Holiday Kickoff

Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA Deputy Administrator | Opening Remarks

Tuesday, December 14, 2021 |

Good morning. I’m Dr. Steven Cliff, Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Thank you so much for joining us as we kick off our impaired driving high-visibility campaign in advance of the holidays.

Impaired driving is one of the leading causes of fatal crashes on our nation’s roads. It’s responsible for more than 10,000 deaths every year. 

Among those deaths, almost 7,000 of them (6,872) were crashes in which at least one driver had a BAC of .15 or higher. And nighttime is a particularly dangerous time to be on the roads: the rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2019 was more than three times higher at night than during the day.

Driving while impaired, whether by alcohol or other drugs, legal or illegal—is against the law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. I want to emphasize that even in states where marijuana laws have changed, it is still illegal to drive under the influence of the drug. 

Every person lost to impaired driving leaves behind countless families, friends, and coworkers devastated by their loss. Their families will never be the same, and they leave behind so many loved ones who cherish their memory and mourn their absence.

These crashes are particularly tragic because they are 100% preventable. There is no reason and no excuse to drive impaired by alcohol or other drugs.

The campaign we’re kicking off today, which runs tomorrow through the first of the new year, reminds every one of the dangers of impaired driving – and the consequences if they choose to drive impaired by alcohol or high.

Our ten-and-a-half million-dollar national paid media campaign includes a new public service video that we will preview for you today. Our campaign is especially important this year as we address the risky driving trends that began in 2020 and continue unabated. Before the pandemic began, NHTSA had started research on the presence of drugs and alcohol in fatal and near-fatal traffic crashes. That ongoing study allowed us to compare results before and after the crisis began. We saw an increase in alcohol and drug use in seriously and fatally injured drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists through 2020 and into the first half of 2021.

We need to reverse these tragic and terrifying numbers.

And I’m optimistic that the recent signing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a once-in-a-generation investment in our transportation future and will be a huge factor in our ability to reverse this trajectory and reduce fatalities.

The infrastructure law increases NHTSA’s budget by 50%, representing the most significant investment in motor vehicle and highway safety since NHTSA was established more than 50 years ago. The law also focuses on the promise of technology to address the impaired driving problem. It requires NHTSA to continue supporting the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program, which just provided design plans so its new breath alcohol detection technology can be licensed for use in commercial vehicles for the first time. NHTSA is proud to have partnered with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and helped fund this groundbreaking research. We are also excited about the continuing evolution of various automotive technologies to understand what other technological solutions can be brought to bear on this issue. Accordingly, NHTSA is committed to expeditiously implementing the law’s advanced impaired driving technology provision.

NHTSA’s partnerships with law enforcement and the justice system are essential in this work. Today and every day, we thank our law enforcement officers for their dedication to protecting our roads from impaired drivers. And we further thank them for their partnership in prioritizing equity as a foundational element in all aspects of highway safety. In fact, safety and equity must go hand in hand. Preventing impaired driving does not and cannot rest on the shoulders of law enforcement alone. It will take all of us, working together and treating one another with respect and dignity, to end the scourge of these entirely preventable crashes.

We have many safety partners with us today, united in our efforts to save lives. I want to thank Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Governors Highway Safety Association, and the Arlington, Texas, Police Department for their strong support of our safety mission.

Together, we can stop impaired driving and keep other families from experiencing this heartbreak.