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three times the rate for drivers between the ages of 25 and 45.
Drunk driving is now the leading cause of death for the 16-21
age group. This is clearly a problem of tragic proportions for America's young people and one that deserves our best
I can report, however, that the State legislatures have shown
an increasing inclination to return the drinking age to 21.
minimum age for the purchase of any alcohol, with six other
States and the District of Columbia having 21 as the minimum
for the purchase of distilled spirits.
During the 1983 legis
lative sessions, Delaware and Alaska raised the age for any
alcohol to 21, and Oklahoma raised the age for beer to 21.
Bills were considered in 27 other States during 1983, and
passage appears likely in several during the 1984 sessions.
From our accident data, it seems likely that each State that
passes such a law will experience a significant reduction in the number of young people killed in alcohol related crashes.
An eight-state study of the experience in States that have
raised the drinking age has shown an average 28% reduction
in alcohol-related fatalities for drivers under 21.
Congress has already enacted legislation to encourage the
States to improve their control of drunk driving.
97-364 established a
new grant program under which the States
would become eligible for increased funds for alcohol programs
if they met certain criteria.
Although the program has just
begun, we are encouraged by the efforts that many States have
made to improve their proyrams so as
to qualify for grants.
It is our view that raising the drinking age to 21 will save
lives, and that we should continue to encourage the States to
raise the drinking age.
We believe that a strong trend has al
ready been established in this direction through the yrassroots
efforts of many organizations.
The Presidential Commission on
Drunk Driving is expected to conclude its work this fall with
a strong recommendation for the 21 drinking age.
tion, together with the continued lobbying of private citizens
and the availability of grant funds under P.L. 97-364, should
strengthen the trend during the 1984 sessions of the legislatures.
I believe that we
are moving steadily in the right direction,
and that the current efforts will achieve the desired result
without the need for additional Federal legislation.
Furthermore, enactment of a Federal drinking age could
impose substantial enforcement costs on State governments,
are not prepared to underwrite from the Federal level.
While we believe these enforcement costs are well worth the
investment, we believe these choices are more appropriately
made at the State level. Therefore, the Department cannot
support enactment of H.R. 3870.
I would be pleased to keep the Subcommittee informed of
developments in State law and of trends in alcohol-related
accidents involving younger drivers.
This concludes my statement.
I would be pleased to answer
any questions you may have.
Mr. FLORIO. Thank you very much.
Mr. FLORIO. Is it my understanding also that the suggestion you have made about the grant proposals, which you have some degree of optimism about, is that a State can qualify for a grant if they meet certain criteria, but it is conceivable that one of those criteria would not be to have a State drinking age of 21?
Ms. STEED. That is correct. It is a tiered grant program, where a State must meet four basic criteria. Then there are a number of supplemental criteria. One of the supplemental criteria, in fact the first one on the list, is raising the drinking age.
Mr. FLORIO. So therefore, the basic premise that we are operating from and that, according to your prior statements and statements in the record, is a feeling that there is a positive good to be achieved with regard to drinking and driving by having an age 21 drinking age, but that a minimum drinking age of 21 cannot be addressed or will not necessarily be addressed under the proposals that you are advocating.
Ms. STEED. We believe that it will, and the reason that we are optimistic is the kind of legislative activity that has occurred this year and last year. If you look at 1982 there were some 378 pieces of legislation on drunk driving introduced in State legislatures. Thus far in 1983, I believe it is something like 760 pieces of legislation.
So the States are really picking up the ball and running with it in the area of drunk driving. This kind of legislative activity is extremely encouraging. We have never seen anything like it.
Mr. Florio. Well, I mean, I appreciate boosterism. But what you are saying, though, is that you are using the carrot approach and you anticipate the States, certainly in these times, are going to be very anxious to get money.
Ms. STEED. That is correct.
Mr. FLORIO. But the counterforces that we are experiencing here, who feel-particularly in the industry—that this is not something, for whatever reason, that this is not something that should be achieved—that is, lifting the drinking age-are going to be much more targeted and much more effective at the State level. And therefore, inasmuch as you can qualify for these moneys without lifting the drinking age, while I can appreciate the fact that what you are saying is that you feel that there is a sense of the need to do this, but what you are suggesting as the best way of doing it does not guarantee that it gets done.
Ms. STEED. It does not guarantee it. But as I said, we are very confident that the public attitude is changing, both among young people and among adults. I feel optimistic that we can make some progress. We have seen, as I said in the testimony, a number of States moving in this direction.
My real concern with imposing a national law is that we risk a backlash against the heavy-handed Federal Government coming in, telling the States what to do.
Mr. FLORIO. What form of backlash are you concerned about?
Ms. STEED. States resenting the Federal Government coming in, saying that thou shalt and thou must do something.
Mr. FLORIO. What form do you anticipate this reaction taking?
Ms. STEED. Nonenforcement, nonconcern; simply a backlash. It happens often. We think that the better way to do it is to keep the public pressure and the public encouragement up.
The fact of a law, particularly in a safety area, is not enough, as we have seen in the area of child safety seats in the last 2 years. We have been encouraging child safety seats for a number of years, and now 40 States plus the District of Columbia have enacted such a law. That is terrific.
The problem is that we do not have enough good information out there as enough experience in the States to make the law work. We are now noticing, for example, that 70 percent of those seats are not used correctly. So the simple fact of a law is not going to solve the problem. It is going to take a concerted effort at the local level to educate the public, to get the public on our side, and to get them moving at their own volition.
Mr. FLORIO. Why is the one approach mutually exclusive from the other approach? What is the problem?
For example, some of the witnesses that we had at our last hearing suggested that the penalties that we have put in this particular proposal are too strict, and you are in a sense saying that you do not anticipate it being enforced and saying that we should get involved with education. And I certainly commend you for the educational component.
But I do not see where these should be mutually exclusive, that if you have the penalty, you have the education, because this law does not-and this is one of the criticisms that was made-does not in any way impact upon the young person going in attempting to buy alcohol under age 21. It deals with the establishment.
So I understand what you are saying. What you are saying is, your preferred approach would be a certain way. But I do not see how that in anyway diminishes the desirability of having the uniform law, because you have already conceded that less than half of the States have these laws, as a matter of fact substantially less than half, and that not all are moving to 21.
And we have had sufficient testimony, and I think even from your own organization, that the existence of 18, 19, 21, different, nonuniform ages, is in and of itself a serious problem because it encourages people to be driving around trying to find a better State.
So I understand what you are saying. I appreciate the philosophical vantage point that you are coming from. But I am still listening for reasons as to why you feel that harm will be achieved, other than your generalized thought that somehow States will be resistant to this concept and therefore we would have bad relations.
If you follow that through to its logical conclusion, you can say that, whether it be 55 mile an hour driving laws or speeding laws or whatever-we have certain perceptions that there are national problems. The feeling is growing, I think, that this is a national problem and that there should be a national uniform response.
I understand what it is you've said, but I'm not overly persuaded yet that there is any reason why this is going to in some way do something that will not complement what it is that you are trying to do.
By the way, one last question and then I will yield to my friend from New Mexico. There have been some proposals, and we have a Congressman here who I think is going to push the proposal or advocate the proposal, that the States be denied highway funding unless they increase the drinking age to 21. May I have your thoughts on that type of proposal?
Ms. STEED. Certainly. We addressed a similar proposal last year with the incentive grant program for alcohol. When that bill was first introduced, it would have penalized States for not taking the steps that are now offered under an incentive approach. Our feeling was that it was cutting off our nose to spite our face. There are many important highway safety problems. To take away a State's total safety funding to encourage it to do one thing would simply be cutting off the whole highway safety program. We were very concerned about that and instead encouraged that the program be turned around to the incentive approach that we wholeheartedly supported
Mr. FLORIO. So you are into carrots, but you are not into sticks? Ms. STEED. Right.
Mr. FLORIO. It seems to me that the midpoint, then, is to go forward with your carrot approach, talk about a national uniform system, and in that way you get the best of both worlds. But we will agree not to agree.
I am very concerned and quite disappointed in your statement. It appears the administration does not attach much priority to this bill.
I suppose your argument is based on the States' rights issue. In other words, that you feel the States should be the final arbiter. However, only 17 States have raised the drinking age to 21, which means a total of 35, have not. In addition, you state we should approach this issue through a new grant program, Public Law 97–364.
I would like to know, how many States have applied for this program and what is the total appropriation. Is this money used to establish a drinking age at 21?
Ms. STEED. Let me address that. As I mentioned earlier, we heard a number of concerns that the grant program was not going to work. We see absolutely no evidence to that effect. In fact, we see evidence to the contrary.
I believe about 20 States now have applied for funding under those grants. Within the next 2 weeks, we will have approved 10 States who have qualified for grants. They have not all qualified yet for both the basic grant and the supplemental grant, but nonetheless 10 States or 20 percent are meeting the criteria and moving forward with those programs.
The funding in that program is $125 million over a 3-year period, and it qualifies them for an increase based on the State community highway safety funds that they already get. It is a certain percentage that they will be eligible for.
We essentially see the States moving forward very, very positively along these lines. As I said, not all of that money is spent for the 21 drinking age, but we are strongly encouraging the increase in