The 4th of July is a day of celebration—a time to enjoy good food with good friends, and to remember our nation’s history. And while some may take the occasion to indulge in alcoholic beverages, the 4th of July, like every other day, is a not day to drink and drive.
So today I visited Charleston, South Carolina with a critical message: if you’ve had a drink, don’t get behind the wheel.
Police Chief Mullen and the Charleston Police Department demonstrated a DUI arrest, and I can tell you that one look at the booking process should be enough to stop anyone from even thinking about drinking and driving. But unfortunately, not enough people understand the consequences of drinking and driving. Drunk driving is the leading cause of traffic-related fatalities nationwide, killing 13,000 people in 2006.
In South Carolina, the DUI numbers are even more sobering: over 1,000 people died on state roads, and 420 fatalities were alcohol related—almost half of the total deaths. Indeed, the alcohol-related fatality rate in South Carolina is nearly twice the national average.
South Carolina law enforcement and state officials know this is simply too many deaths—and they’re doing something about it. Governor Sanford made DUI-reform a top legislative priority. Earlier this year, the state took an important step by increasing penalties for repeat offenders, eliminating loopholes for defendants, and implementing a tiered-penalty system so the most impaired are punished most severely.
Here in Charleston, Chief Mullen and his team are working hard to reduce drunk driving incidences every day—not just on holidays. Their efforts include dedicating two squads for daily traffic enforcement, taking an active role in the MADD campaign, offering an education program for teen collision avoidance, and having three to four safety checkpoints a week.
At the Department of Transportation, we’re working to reduce alcohol-related accidents and fatalities through enforcement and awareness. We invest $40 million dollars a year to help local law enforcement run check points, and sponsor a national advertising campaign to alert motorists to the increased enforcement.
This fall, we will conduct a national law enforcement crackdown to correspond with the Labor Day weekend. And our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is conducting a pilot program in New Mexico to determine the most effective methods we can employ to reduce impaired driving across the nation.
The commitment of law enforcement and federal and state officials is critical, but it’s only half the battle. Ultimately, responsibility begins and ends with the drivers.
It’s up to you to make the right decision each and every time you drink away from home. Take a cab, or find a designated driver. That simple decision will save lives.
And this weekend, whether you’re celebrating the 4th of July at a restaurant, bar, or your best friend’s back yard barbeque, my message is simple: don’t drink and drive. Losing your freedom is no way to celebrate our independence, and I’d hate to see the 4th of July become a day of tragedy on our roads.
Please drink responsibly, and have a happy and safe Independence Day!