Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: NHTSA Drive Sober Winter Holiday news conference

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Monday, December 21, 2015 | San Francisco

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Monday, December 21, 2015
San Francisco
As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you Assistant Director Cochran. I am pleased to be here with you all this morning.

Why are we here today? Our nation is simply paying too high a price in lives destroyed by drunk driving.

Drunk driving remains a tragic problem that kills, injures, and causes untold heartache for families that lose loved ones and those who are severely injured in crashes. In 2014, 9,967 people died in drunk driving crashes. We lost 27 people each day, just because someone made the selfish choice to drink and drive.

That’s why NHTSA has again partnered with law enforcement for our Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Winter Holiday Crackdown on Drunk Drivers. More than 10,000 law enforcement agencies will be out on the streets looking for drunk drivers.

And, make no mistake, if you’re caught driving drunk you will be arrested and prosecuted. This year’s high visibility enforcement campaign kicked off this week and runs through New Year’s Day.

This year, we’re unveiling a new and powerful advertisement to drive home the dangers of drunk driving and why you can’t trust your own judgement about driving once you’ve been drinking. It’s called the Man in the Mirror. It will play immediately before showings of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” at Regal Theaters across the country, as well as on television and digital outlets. Given the level of interest in the new film we know that millions will see and hear this important and lifesaving safety message.

I think we all remember the iconic scene in the original Star Wars of Obi-Wan Kenobi using a Jedi mind trick to fool the Stormtroopers. We all recall him waving his hand and saying, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Regrettably, we can’t use the same trick on people who might drink and drive. As we all know, alcohol impairs judgement. That’s why it’s vital to plan ahead to stay safe.

If you can organize a holiday night out, then you can plan for a safe way home after you’ve been drinking. Use a designated driver. Call a taxi, a car service, or use public transit. Use the SaferRide app for Apple and Android Devices. Use your community’s Safe Ride program. But, never, ever get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking. As our ad makes clear, alcohol impairs judgement. That voice in your head will be telling you you’re okay to drive.

You’re not. Even if you don’t harm yourself or others, our friends in law enforcement will find you. You’ll be arrested and prosecuted. So, remember: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.

Our education and enforcement efforts have made a real difference in the fight against drunk driving. According to the data we recently released, drunk driving deaths were down 1.1 percent in 2014. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a 27 percent decline in deaths. When we pass tough laws against drunk driving, when those laws are enforced by the brave men and women of law enforcement, and when we engage the public in a conversation regarding the destructive choice of drunk driving, we save lives.

In addition to education and enforcement there is another important and simple strategy that all States should take to stop impaired driving, ignition interlocks. NHTSA supports the enactment of laws that require the use of ignition interlocks as a consequence for all (including first) impaired driving offenders.

Research provides strong evidence that, while installed on an offender’s vehicle, interlocks reduce recidivism among both first-time and repeat offenders. This includes high-risk offenders, i.e., those who repeatedly drive after drinking with high BACs, and are resistant to changing behavior. Ignition interlocks have been used to prevent impaired driving in the United States for more than 20 years. Over the years they have become more accurate, reliable, available, and less costly to install and maintain, making them a valuable tool to separate a driver who has been drinking from operating his/her motor vehicle, thereby decreasing the incidences of driving while impaired and increasing public safety.

Surveys of DWI offenders have found that the majority believed that, even though they may have disliked having an interlock installed, the sanction was fair and that the interlock reduced driving after drinking. Families of offenders with ignition interlocks were in favor of the tech¬nology -- indicating that, while the devices were an inconvenience, they provided a level of reassur¬ance that the offender was not driving while impaired. Other benefits to the interlock sanction include the ability for offenders to continue to drive to work, appointments, family activities, etc., without disruptions or incurring the added cost and time of alternate transportation.

We were pleased that Governor Brown extended the four-county pilot ignition interlock program here in California a few months ago – and that your state is taking a close look at how this technology could help in your efforts to reduce drunk driving.

Again, we thank all of the law enforcement officers who are doing the hard and sometimes dangerous work of keeping us safe on the roads. We urge everyone traveling this holiday season to stay safe.

Thank you