« AnteriorContinuar »
safety. Our environmental laws, our health and safety laws, OSHA, are all designed to make a safer environment for the public. It is sometimes ironic that the major causes, avoidable causes are not addressed by our Government because they have this element of individual choice. It is easier to regulate a kind of corporate hazard than it is a hazard that is related to individual choice.
But in some cases we have moved. We have moved in the area of trying to define the hazards of smoking to the public to a greater extent, and I am glad to see that we are doing it here.
I have a question, so you know where I am coming from in support of this kind of legislation, so let me ask this question. Later this morning we are going to hear testimony from Michael Birkley of the National Licensed Beverage Association, who will say that there is no consistently reliable basis for making the prediction that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety made when he said that any State that raises the legal drinking age can expect on the order of a 30-percent reduction in fatal crashes among those affected by the law, and he is going to point out-he is coming at the end, so I think it is wise that we have some kind of testimony to compare. He will point out that the institute's prediction did come true in Michigan, but it did not come true in the States of Montana, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, Illinois, and Florida, and according to his testimony, some of those States actually showed a rise in alcohol-related fatalities when the drinking age was raised.
Do you have any comment on that?
Mr. HURLEY. Well, clearly, there is always a question of when do you have enough data. We feel that there is more than sufficient data right now to justify a uniform drinking age of 21. We would be glad to ask our statistical people in Chicago to take a look at the points being made by Mr. Birkley and respond back to the committee.
Mr. RITTER. I would ask that we place that kind of information in the record.
Mr. FLORIO. I think we have already done that prior to the gentleman coming here, and we have also put into the record a letter from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that puts into question the validity of some of the studies being provided, so I am sure that we will have a sufficient volume of studies that the committee will be on the record and able to make its own decisions as to which are valid studies and which are less than valid studies.
Mr. RITTER. I thank the gentleman for his answer, and I would yield back my time.
Mr. FLORIO. Let me just, before excusing the two witnesses, address the point that I think Mr. Dowdy raised and that some have raised with regard to the question of constitutionality, putting into question the validity of this legislation as it impacts upon the 21st amendment. On its face, the 21st amendment does not say anything about Federal regulation of the drinking age. It prohibits importation of alcohol into a State in conflict with the State's laws. It is obvious that this was included in the amendment to protect those States that wanted to remain dry after prohibition, and I think that is pretty much the wisdom of the constitutional scholars in interpreting what that provision meant in the Constitution.
It is also clear that Congress has unquestioned power over interstate commerce. It is inconceivable to me that the framers of the 21st amendment wanted to preclude us from addressing the problems of highway deaths. When Congress moved to end racial discrimination in public accommodations, some people asserted that this violated State prerogatives. The State supreme court sustained the law as a valid exercise of the commerce power.
There are many Supreme Court cases that our staff has reviewed rejecting the notion that the 21st amendment gives the States absolute control of liquor, thereby precluding any action by the Federal Government. The Supreme Court has said specifically that the idea that the 21st amendment repealed our commerce power over liquor is, and I quote, "patently bizarre" and "demonstrably incorrect.
So, I think we undoubtedly will hear from others who will try to deal with this question on a very strict and technical constitutional law basis, and that is certainly appropriate, so it is important that we do deal with that question, but I think an objective reading of the cases puts aside the validity of the argument that somehow the Constitution precludes us from considering this type of legislation, and certainly I think that will be revealed as we go through these hearings.
I would like to express my appreciation for your participation today, and thank you very much for your cooperation.
Ms. LUBINSKI. Thank you.
Mr. FLORIO. We are now very pleased to hear from a distinguished panel of individuals who come from the State of New Jersey, who have some firsthand experience with this question. I would like to welcome Dr. Arthur Yeager, who is representing the Physicians for Automobile Safety, from Westwood, N.J.; Mr. Arnold Fege, director of governmental relations for the National Conference of Parents and Teachers, who is here representing the New Jersey PTA, and Capt. Anthony Blanda, of the New Jersey State Police; and Mr. Nicholas DeLuccia, who is representing State Senator Graves, who unfortunately was delayed and was not able to be here today. Senator Graves has been one of the leading inspirations in our State legislature in the effort to restore the drinking age back to 21 from which it was moved a number of years ago.
Gentlemen, we are pleased to have your participation today. All of your statements will be made a part of the record in their entirety. You may feel free to proceed as you see fit, and perhaps we should hear from Dr. Yeager first.
STATEMENTS OF ARTHUR YEAGER, D.D.S., VICE PRESIDENT,
PHYSICIANS FOR AUTOMOTIVE SAFETY; ARNOLD F. FEGE, ON BEHALF OF NEW JERSEY PTA; CAPT. ANTHONY BLANDA, ASSISTANT OPERATIONS OFFICER, NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE; AND NICHOLAS DeLUCCIA, ON BEHALF OF NEW JERSEY SENATOR FRANK X. GRAVES, JR.
Dr. YEAGER. Good morning. My name is Arthur Yeager. I am a dentist from Westwood, N.J., and I serve as vice president of Physicians for Automotive Safety, a nationwide organization of health professionals dedicated to reducing death and injury on the highway. It was my privilege to represent Physicians for Automotive Safety on the New Jersey Coalition 21, and to take part in the successful effort there to raise the drinking age.
In the early 1970's, New Jersey joined a majority of the States in reducing its legal drinking age. By 1978, it was apparent to many of us that this was a tragic mistake. Police, school, municipal officials reported a dramatic increase in alcohol-related vandalism, violent acts, and school discipline problems. The number of accidents involving teenage drunk drivers soared. Fatalities tripled. Teenage drivers have always been overrepresented in the accident statistics, probably because of their immaturity and their inexperience behind the wheel. Their accident rate is double that which might be expected from their percent of the population.
When alcohol is made readily available to these youngsters, as it was in the early 1970's with the lowering of the drinking age, the combination of drinking and driving is especially lethal. In New Jersey, from 1965 to 1972, when the drinking age was 21, a yearly average of 18 drunk drivers between 18 and 20 were involved in fatal accidents. From 1973 to 1980, when New Jersey's drinking age was 18, the number rose to an average of 52 drunk drivers involved in fatal accidents, a threefold increase.
With the drinking age back to 21 since the first of the year, I am pleased to report that for the first 6 months of 1983 only 13 drunk drivers between 18 and 20 were involved in fatal accidents. As a direct result of raising the drinking age, we estimate that 35 to 40 lives will be saved in New Jersey this year. This lifesaving and injury reducing potential of raising the drinking age has been confirmed by studies at the University of Michigan, the National Transportation Safety Board, and by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Insurance Institute estimates, and the New Jersey results seem to confirm, that if the drinking age were 21 in all States, over 700 lives would be saved each year. After considerable study, it is my belief that raising the drinking age is the single most effective drunk driving countermeasure available. The results are immediate and they are dramatic. Since 1972, no State has lowered and most States have raised their legal drinking age. The result is a crazy patchwork of laws, 18, some 19, 20, most 21, some 21 for liquor, lower for beer.
The pattern is not only confusing and illogical, but it also has deadly implications at the borders of those States, where there is a major difference in the drinking age. For example, in Wisconsin the drinking age is 18. The border with Illinois is a short ride and a major attraction for youngsters from the Chicago area, where they must be 21 to drink. Establishments catering to those under 21 flourish just over the Wisconsin line. Imagine what the roads south are like on a weekend at closing time.
Recently, New York's Governor Cuomo announced that he favors age 21 for New York. The northeast now seems to be moving toward a regional agreement at 21 with the unfortunate exception of Vermont. A measure to raise the legal drinking age to 21, which polls indicate was supported by a majority of the voters, passed the legislature only to be vetoed by the Governor because he felt it would not work.
Imagine the frustration of the neighboring States who have raised their drinking age only to be thwarted by Vermont. Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah have a similar problem with Idaho. When a youngster is able to subvert the law in his State by crossing to another State, purchasing and consuming alcohol there, and returns drunk to cause death, injury, or property damage in his own State, it is time for Congress to act.
To save gasoline, the 55-mile-per-hour limit was enacted. To save lives, we urge the prompt passage of H.R. 3870.
Mr. FLORIO. Thank you very much.
STATEMENT OF ARNOLD FEGE
My name is Arnold Fege, and I am director of governmental relations for the National PTA, representing 5.3 million members in the 25,000 local PTA units across the Nation. Mr. Chairman, I bring greetings from two New Jersey residents, Mrs. Manya Unger, who is our national PTA vice president for legislative activities, and also Mrs. Phyllis Scheps, who is the New Jersey State PTA safety chairman, who were unable to be here this morning, and I am representing the New Jersey PTA in their behalf.
Mr. FLORIO. Both individuals, I might add, are extremely informed and have been very persuasive in the discussion and debate that took place in New Jersey. I am intimately familiar with their contributions in the State.
Mr. FEGE. I will relay that comment. They have testified, of course, as you have indicated, at numerous hearings across the State of New Jersey and nationally to support raising the legal drinking age to 21.
The New Jersey PTA appreciates this opportunity to testify in support of H.R. 3870, a bill to restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages to young people. The States that have raised their drinking age all have experienced a significant decrease in driving fatal accidents and injuries, as has been testified previously. The National PTA has addressed the growing problem of alcohol use and misuse by the young, and has come to the conclusion that in addition to a massive education and prevention program for students and indeed for those of us who are dealing with students, we also needed to raise the legal drinking age.
Numbers games could be played. Sociological studies could be cited. Rationale could be presented on every side. And we are convinced when it really comes right down to it, the parents and the teachers, administrators and the public are witnessing a growing number of instances in which alcohol abuse plays a part in the breakdown of respect for property, programs, and people.
Please keep in mind if you will that the PTA was founded 86 years ago on the principle that we are advocates, not adversaries of young people, and literally millions of hours a year are voluntarily given by our members to help children and youth. They are our own children, even if we are designated to work for every youngster in the country, and I want to assure the committee that we are not out to get children, as has been accused, as the New Jersey State PTA has been accused, or to deprive students of some alleged right.
We are deeply concerned that they be protected so that they can live to enjoy their most important right, to grow up healthy and well educated, and to enjoy that birthright that we sometimes forget to pass on to the next generation, a quality of life that is superior to succeeding generations. To do that we must as parents, teachers, legislators sometimes protect youth from themselves.
The PTA in New Jersey invited others who are experts in dealing with the young to join us if they thought we were correct in assuming that the drinking age should be raised. Forty organizations in New Jersey comprising law enforcement, physicians, school professionals, and municipal leaders combined forces with us. Even then, we in PTA felt we should get some indication from the general public as to how they viewed the problem. In 5 short weeks, with no financing, no facilities, no advertising, no pressuring, no publicity, we collected over 35,000 signatures from people throughout New Jersey petitioning the Governor to throw his support for a move to raise the legal drinking age to 21.
Alcohol education is but one step that is necessary. Other things, such as photographs on licenses to prevent false ID's and getting better identification is certainly another, but raising the drinking age at this point is perhaps the most important. We ask you, this committee, as responsible and responsive representatives, to heed the request of the grassroots in other States.
And I might say that besides New Jersey, we have 17 other State affiliates that have resolutions that have come to the national level supporting the raising of the drinking age at the State level to 21. We are expecting a national resolution in our convention this summer. We ask you to acknowledge, as have many other States, to raise the drinking age, to give consideration to a national drinking age of 21.
Although the drinking age law has been in effect only 9 months now in New Jersey, the State is beginning to see a decrease in fatal accidents and injuries. Police report a decrease in problems associated with teenage drinking and driving. The evidence we contend is overwhelming. We believe that the time is right, and we ask your support.
The New Jersey PTA appreciates your time this morning and your interest in such important legislation.
Mr. Florio. Thank you very much. We are now pleased to hear from Captain Blanda, and I would just add that my conversation last week with the superintendent of State police indicated his support for this type of legislation, and indicated that he was sending his foremost expert to testify before our committee, and we are pleased to have you here this morning.
STATEMENT OF CAPT. ANTHONY BLANDA Captain BLANDA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Colonel Pagno sends his regards, and he also pledges his total support for this bill.
I am Capt. Anthony Blanda, assistant operations officer of the New Jersey State Police. Just to give you a little insight into what