WASHINGTON -- Summoning a somber image of unopened packages beneath a Christmas tree ("presents for a child killed by a drunk driver"), President Clinton promised yesterday to renew his administration's fight against drunken driving in the new year.
"For a generation, drunk driving has been one of America's greatest public safety challenges," Clinton said in his weekly radio address in announcing new steps by the Justice and Transportation departments.
Clinton said he would try again to gain passage of a nationwide 0.08 blood-alcohol standard for drunken driving. Congress rejected that proposal in May as it passed a transportation bill, and safety groups accused lawmakers of capitulating to the liquor lobby.
The president promised grants to states and other incentives to enforce laws against drinking by minors, to reinforce programs to prevent drunken driving and to pass and enforce strong state highway-safety legislation.
"With alcohol flowing at parties and millions of families taking to the road to see friends and relatives, the holiday season can also be a season of tragedy," Clinton said. "Last December, more than 1,300 Americans lost their lives in alcohol-related crashes."
The statistics are not all disheartening, he said, noting that the number of people killed in alcohol-related crashes dropped to an all-time low in 1997.
Last year, for the first time since the government began keeping track in 1975, alcohol was involved in fewer than 40 percent of all traffic deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the Transportation Department, reported in August that alcohol-related traffic fatalities totaled 16,189 in 1997, down 1,029, or 6 percent, from 1996.
But Clinton said there is much more to be done. "The most effective action we can take to make our roads safer is to set the national impaired-driving standard at 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content," he said. "No one will ever doubt that a person with that much blood alcohol is unfit to drive after meeting Brenda Frazier."
Frazier, of Westminster, Md., appeared at the White House in March to back Clinton's call for a nationwide .08 standard. She recalled seeing her 9-year-old daughter killed by a car driven by a man whose blood-alcohol level was exactly 0.08.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted the 0.08 standard, while most other states, including New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, have a 0.10 standard. Maryland has a two-tier standard -- 0.08 impaired and 0.10 intoxicated.
Pub Date: 12/27/98