406 Dirksen EPW Hearing Room

Frank R. Lautenberg


Today we will review the progress we have made in getting drunk drivers off the road, and how to save even more people from dying from a preventable tragedy.

Since 1984, the federal government has taken tough action to prevent senseless drunk driving deaths on our roads.

Two of the most successful examples are the national minimum drinking age of 21, and the national .08 blood alcohol content standard for drunk driving.

These smart, tough laws have saved tens of thousands of lives.

Though my children were a little annoyed, I was proud to author the “age 21” law—and am proud that we have kept so many mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers alive because of it.

But even with these laws, our job is not complete.

Drunk driving remains an epidemic.

Seventeen-thousand victims still die each year in vehicle crashes involving alcohol. That’s 41 percent of all highway deaths.

In my home State of New Jersey, 341 of our residents died in alcohol-related crashes last year—a 20-percent increase over the year before.

Despite these grim figures, some people want to roll back the life-saving laws we have put in place.

Let me be clear: We will not be revisiting these well-established and successful laws.

Instead, we will be looking ahead to what the government can do to protect more Americans from drunk drivers.

Congress must take action to convince states to pass more effective laws to combat drunk driving.

For example, not every state has tougher laws for repeat drunk drivers. Arrests and even convictions can pile up without repercussion. One news report tells the story of a man who was caught driving drunk eleven times—and who never lost his license.

Amazingly, there are many places in this country where you can refuse to take a blood-alcohol test even after causing a fatal crash and the penalty is only the loss of a driver’s license.

When it comes to better enforcement of laws, sanctions on states work.

When we offered incentives to states to pass .08 blood-alcohol laws, only three took us up. But when we passed a sanction to withhold some of their federal highway funding, 32 states changed their minds.

To prevent more injuries, we should make greater use of technology, such as ignition interlocks, that lock a car’s ignition when a driver’s blood alcohol level is too high.

I look forward to hearing about those efforts.

The bottom line is that drunk driving kills.

Seventeen-thousand American families a year who have lost a loved one can testify to that.

Today I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about actions Congress can take to further save lives on our roads.

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