The general has his marching orders, and they come from the commander in chief.
The general in this case is Jerry Curry, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Curry is a retired Army major general. The commander in chief is, of course, President Bush.To an auditorium packed with police and people who work with various safety programs, President Bush kicked off the beginning of Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness week earlier this month.
However, this will be an ongoing effort designed to put yet another dent in the highway carnage that is blamed on drivers who misuse alcohol and drugs.
The results, so far, are impressive. The mandating of laws prohibiting those under 21 from buying alcoholic beverages has saved an estimated 10,000 lives since 1982. Unfortunately most of the fatal accidents attributed to alcohol occur among the young.
Despite these optimistic figures, the situation nationwide is still grim. More than 22,000 deaths per year are blamed on alcohol or other drugs. This means more than two people died each hour, 24 hours a day. In addition there is an injury accident every 90 seconds, again blamed on impaired drivers.
Figures are not exact concerning drugs other than alcohol, but it is estimated that at least 10 percent of the accidents can be traced to such impairments. Some of these drivers used illegal drugs and some were using legal prescriptions. Many states in recent years have rewritten their "driving under the influence" laws to cover the effects of drugs both legal and illegal.
The thrust of the current campaign is aimed at those who are not impaired. What are people doing to see to it that their friends don't drive drunk?
The advertisements were developed by The Advertising Council with the advice of Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner. They are designed to make people think.
The ads show a picture of a mangled sedan with the caption "ever get somebody totally wasted?" The idea is to make people feel guilty if they don't take the initiative and prevent others, who have had too much to drink, from getting behind the wheel.
Bush was especially pleased that the Supreme Court had upheld the right of police departments to establish sobriety checkpoints. He also asked people to continue to do everything within their power to keep impaired drivers off the roads.
Based on the number of vehicle miles driven each year, the highway death toll is at one of the lowest levels ever. But even with this improving record there were still 45,555 highway deaths in 1989.
NHTSA says the lower toll, per mile driven, can be attributed to safer cars, increased use of seat belts and airbags. However the major contributor has been the change in attitude toward the impaired driver.
In years past, even the courts were generally lenient. Not any more. Social pressure has increased greatly. Those convicted of driving under the influence not only face license suspension, high legal fees, fines and even jail, but also a lengthy period of very high insurance premiums.
While most agree that they should not drive while drunk, many don't realize how little alcohol it can take to put us at risk under the law.