Speeches and Presentations

Drive Sober Holiday Kickoff Remarks

James Owens, NHTSA Deputy Administrator

Tuesday, December 15, 2020 |

Hi, I’m James Owens, the Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Thank you for joining us today to discuss the cause of nearly one-third of all fatalities on our roads every year – impaired driving. 

And, a special thank you to the 48 officers from across the U.S. that you see on these monitors.  Though they couldn’t join in person this year, we’re honored to have their support.  

Nationally, impaired-driving crashes killed 10,142 people in 2019.  All of these crashes were completely preventable, and there is no reason and no excuse for driving impaired.  

We are slowly seeing some progress in the fight against impaired drivers.  In 2019, there were 5.3% fewer alcohol-impaired driving crashes than the year before, the lowest percentage since NHTSA started reporting these crashes in 1982.

However, this progress is in jeopardy due to changing driving patterns and behaviors we’ve seen during the COVID-19 national health emergency.  The drivers who remained on the roads engaged in more risky behaviors, including driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to a NHTSA report issued in October.

Before the health crisis began, we 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, and our preliminary findings suggest that, since mid-March, more drivers had alcohol or drugs in their systems.  

In fact, in a study update that we plan to release very soon, we found that more than 63% of drivers in fatal or near-fatal crashes tested positive for alcohol or at least one active drug – an alarming number and an increase from the 50% range we’d seen before COVID.  About 1 in 5 people in fatal or near-fatal crashes were highly intoxicated, with blood alcohol contents of .15 or more. 

That’s why we’re stepping up efforts to keep impaired drivers off our roads.  

Our message is simple: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.

President Trump has declared December as National Impaired Driving Prevention Month.  

And from December 18 to New Year’s Day, thousands of participating state and local law enforcement agencies will be monitoring roadways to protect the public from impaired drivers.

These officers will be out looking for impaired drivers – and stopping them to prevent tragedies this holiday season.

This year’s high-visibility enforcement will be supported by a $9.5 million national paid media campaign.  Advertisements will run on television, radio, digital, and social media starting tomorrow and running through New Year’s Day.

Our new national advertisement reminds us that impaired driving isn’t just limited to alcohol – marijuana also impairs.  We are reminding drivers that using marijuana, like many other drugs, can impair their ability to drive safely and can result in being charged with driving under the influence.  

We want everyone to know:  If you drive impaired, no matter the substance, you will get caught.  

I would like to thank the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao, for her steadfast support for our impaired-driving prevention efforts, including Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.  We are also pleased to have the support of the nation’s law enforcement community, as well as safety partners like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Governors Highway Safety Association. 

So, this holiday season, and all year long: If you have been drinking or using any other impairing substance, do not get behind the wheel.  Arrange for a sober driver, call a cab, or use a ride-hailing service.  

Don’t gamble with your life—or the lives of others on the road.

Everyone has a choice: to drive sober, or to drive impaired.  Make the right choice this holiday season: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.

Please stay safe, stay healthy, and if you’re impaired, please don’t drive.  Thank you very much for joining us today.