[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1996, Book II)]
[December 28, 1996]
[Pages 2236-2237]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 2236]]

The President's Radio Address
December 28, 1996

    As we approach the New Year, I hope all Americans will think about 
the blessings we share and our obligation to use those blessings wisely. 
The New Year is about opportunity, about renewed chances to make the 
most of our God-given potential. But as always, with opportunity comes 
responsibility; that is America's basic bargain.
    Today I want to talk about one of our greatest responsibilities, 
taking care to protect ourselves and our children. One of the most 
important places to do that is on the road. Especially at this time of 
year, too many people pose a threat to themselves and to others by 
drinking and driving. That's why I fought to make it illegal for all 
people under 21 to drive with any alcohol in their blood, and that is 
now the law in 34 of our States. We should use the privilege of a 
driver's license to demand responsibility when it comes to drugs by 
insisting that teens pass a drug test as a condition of getting a 
driver's license. Let's send a simple message to our children, our 
families, and our friends: Driving under the influence of drug or 
alcohol is wrong; it's illegal; it can kill.
    There's more we must do to meet the fundamental rules of safety. We 
must all wear seatbelts, which are the first line of defense against 
injuries and fatalities, saving 10,000 lives last year alone. We must 
use child safety seats for small children and always keep children 12 
and under buckled up in the back seat, where they are safest. And we 
must all learn about the proper use of airbags, one of our most 
important safety tools.
    In recent months, some concerns have been raised about airbags. But 
this much is clear: Airbags do save lives, almost 1,700 since their 
introduction. At the same time, airbags inflate with considerable force 
and can pose risks to children sitting unbuckled in the front passenger 
seat, instead of buckled up in the back seat where they belong. That's 
why our Department of Transportation is working with auto and insurance 
companies, safety groups, and parents and families to make airbags safer 
for children, so that together with seatbelts and other safety measures, 
they do provide the full protection our families need.
    Researchers are now developing a new generation of ``smart'' 
airbags, which will determine the size of the passenger and inflate just 
enough to protect them without hurting them. But while we wait for this 
new technology, there are steps we can take now to protect our children.
    This November our administration's Department of Transportation 
announced we would soon propose a series of short-term steps to make 
airbags safer for kids. Right away, we required better and more visible 
warning labels in cars and on child safety seats, so that no one forgets 
to keep small children buckled up in the back seat.
    Today I am pleased to announce we are sending forward three 
additional proposals to protect our children, as outlined last month by 
the Department of Transportation. First, under these new rules, auto 
manufacturers will be able to install less powerful airbags, to reduce 
the risk to children and to smaller and older adults. Second, car 
dealers will be able to deactivate the airbags of any owner who requests 
it, as long as the owner understands the risk of doing so. For both of 
these measures, we will begin taking public comment next week, and they 
could take effect as early as this spring. Finally, effective 
immediately, we are extending a rule that lets manufacturers install 
cut-off switches in cars that don't have back seats or room for child 
safety seats. Those who cannot buckle a child safely in the back seat 
will be able to switch off the airbag while the child rides in the 
    Of course, airbags have always been just part of the solutions. In 
rear or side collisions, airbags are not even meant to inflate. That's 
why we must always wear our seatbelts: it protects us in all kinds of 
collisions. If there is one thing we can do to save thousands of 
American lives, it is to increase seatbelt use nationwide. Today I am 
directing the Secretary of Transportation to work with the Congress, the 
States, and other concerned Americans to report back to me with a plan 
to do just that.
    The steps we are taking will make our roads safer and our children 
more secure. We are making airbags safer for our children. We are 
working to increase the use of seatbelts nationwide. And we are 
demanding the responsibility

[[Page 2237]]

that comes with the privilege of driving. That's the way to ensure that 
families go for a drive with safety, security, and peace of mind. If 
we'll all just take that responsibility, both on and off the road, if we 
all do our share to protect our children and our families and meet our 
obligations to each other, we will be able to seize the remarkable 
opportunities that this New Year will bring.
    In this season of renewal, let us resolve to seize that opportunity 
and to rise to that responsibility, to make the most of 1997. Hillary 
and I are very grateful we've had the chance to serve in this last year; 
we're very grateful for all the American people have done for our family 
in this past year. We wish you and your families a happy New Year, and 
we look forward to working with you in the years ahead to meet our 
challenges and make our Nation a stronger, safer place for all 
    Thanks for listening.

Note: The address was recorded at 10:41 a.m. on December 27 in the 
Roosevelt Room at the White House for broadcast at 10:06 a.m. on 
December 28.