Earlier this week, I spoke with members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Now, we at DOT wholeheartedly share the Chiefs' commitment to making our roads--from super-highways to rural byways--as safe as possible for all types of motorists.
Two of the biggest threats to any community are crime and traffic crashes, and these folks are dedicated to stopping both. So, if I could only say one thing to this organization's members, it would be "Thank you."
And I did thank them for supporting our core safety programs, like "Click it or Ticket," our seat-belt awareness campaign. With the backing of law enforcement, we are getting the message out about seat-belts, and we're seeing results, too. More than eight out of ten Americans are wearing seat belts in cars. Seven out of ten truck drivers are buckling up, and that's a record high for commercial drivers.
With safety campaigns, we know that education alone can't do the job; we need the valuable enforcement effort these law officers provide and the seat-belt and drunk-driving checkpoints they conduct that really help get people to drive more safely.
Without that enforcement, we would not have been able to reduce traffic deaths in 2009 to the lowest overall number since 1954 and the lowest per mile rate on record.
We'll be needing their efforts again as we work to stop distracted driving.
A host of states have already passed laws banning the use of cell phones and texting behind the wheel, but that number is still too low. As I noted last month on these pages, DOT has crafted some sample legislation to help encourage those states who have yet to get in gear on this. We are also seeking $50 million in next year's budget to develop incentive programs to move those states along.
Now it's time to consider the enforcement part of the distracted driving equation. So in Syracuse, NY, and Hartford, CT, we are piloting a program that combines education with high-visibility enforcement of state law.
And that's where the Chiefs come in. I know that stepped-up enforcement requires police resources, and we appreciate that. But it's worth noting that in places with high-visibility traffic enforcement, crime is also reduced, so high-profile enforcement does pay additional dividends.
I also know that law officers want to protect their communities, and laws against texting or talking on a cell phone while driving give the law enforcement community the tools they need to carry out that invaluable mission.
We want the Chiefs of Police in every state to have that legal tool. We want those laws in every state. And we want to thank law officers everywhere for their service.