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Remarks to The Century Council about Traffic Safety and Drunk Driving Issues

Tuesday, November 30, 1999
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Let me begin by saying that the work that The Century Council is performing is a function much needed as we strive to eliminate drunk driving, and the terrible potential consequences of drinking and driving. Jack, with your background as a former DEA administrator, and over 20 years with the FBI, you know, as I do, that the numbers of people who drink and drive, not the least of whom are young people, is unacceptable. Many of us have seen the damage—the carnage, that drinking and driving produces. And now, once again, the holidays are upon us. We in the law enforcement community view this time of year as critical when it comes to traffic safety and drunk driving issues. The results of the survey that we are here today to discuss are extremely disturbing. The "awareness gap" that is indicated has got to be narrowed, and soon. I can tell you firsthand that the results of this survey are right on target. Too many times, I have heard from my officers who comment on the traffic stops that they make, and the drivers who have absolutely no knowledge of our drunk driving laws, and no idea whatsoever how alcohol affects their ability to drive.

I must commend The Century Council for taking a leadership role in continuing to provide the resources and mechanisms to better educate our citizens on this extremely important issue. Your work in helping to enact legislation for example, in seven states for underage zero tolerance laws and adult administrative license revocation laws would indicate that at least 360 lives are saved annually through those efforts alone. Just think of the effect that could take hold all over this country if those laws were put into place in the other 43 states that don’t have them.

The public still considers drunk driving to be the major highway traffic safety problem, as they should. But I think that the gradual decline that we have seen in alcohol related traffic deaths since 1996 has led to a measure of complacency in the nation and the media that the drunk driving problem has been solved, when nothing could be further from the truth. We have to develop more safety and media campaigns to target higher-risk drivers, and increase public awareness of the risks associated with underage drinking.

At the Metropolitan Police Department, we are working hard to enforce the law, as well as educate the public on the inherent dangers of drinking and driving. And according to some of the statistics, the enforcement and education is resulting in some measurable results. But there is still much work to be done. In 1998, the last year for which statistical data is available, approximately 50% of traffic crash deaths in the District of Columbia were alcohol related. And certainly when you stop to think of the number of lives affected by the careless, irresponsible actions of someone who decides that he or she doesn't have impaired judgement as a result of drinking "a little too much," it's overwhelming.

My agency is doing everything that we can to help reduce, and perhaps one day eliminate the problems associated with drinking and driving. Educating the public is a large part of that effort. If you look at our website, locates at you will find information on our laws relative to drinking and driving as well as updates on when we have checkpoints throughout the city. With the help of organizations such as The Century Council, we hope to make those efforts pay off in the form of saved lives. We can never do enough to create awareness, and eliminate factors that negatively affect the quality of life.

I want to thank you again for inviting me to share with you today, and I look forward to our continued partnership as we make driving on the streets of Washington DC safer for our citizens.

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police