Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on Signing a National Minimum Drinking Age Bill

July 17, 1984

That's not emotion—that's that light right there in front of me. [Laughter] Well, thank you all, and please be seated. Vice President Bush and—did I see my friend Governor Kean here? There. How are you? Governor Kean, Members of the Congress, and Secretary Dole, Candy Lightner, all of you who've been fighting this good fight: Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House.

When I accepted my party's nomination for the Presidency—that was 4 years ago today—I shared a vision of the future. I said that we needed a rebirth of an American tradition of leadership at every level of government and private life as well.

I said that we needed a rebirth of an American tradition of leadership of that kind, because the United States of America is unique in world history. It has a genius for leaders at many—of many leaders on many levels. And since then we've seen the rise of a great national movement, a movement that's led by men and women in all walks of life. It began in the community; it spread to State governments; and now it's won wide support here in our Nation's Capital-the movement against drunk driving.

The bill we're gathered to sign today reflects the will of the American people. It takes the battle to stop drunk driving one crucial step further. And permit me to tell you why I believe that this bill is so important.

We know that drinking plus driving spell death and disaster. We know that people in the 18-to-20 age group are more likely to be in alcohol-related accidents than those in any other age group. We know that America has a clear stake in making certain that her sons and daughters, so full of vitality and promise, will not be crippled or killed. And I know there's one—we all know that there is one simple measure that will save thousands of young lives that are in the drinking age—if we, or if we raise the drinking age, I should say, to 21.

Now, raising that drinking age is not a fad or an experiment. It's a proven success. Nearly every State that has raised the drinking age to 21 has produced a significant drop in the teenage driving fatalities. In the State of New Jersey, whose Governor made it a very personal crusade for himself, the rate dropped by 26 percent; Illinois, it has fallen 23 percent; in Michigan, 31 percent. And when the Commission on Drunk Driving submitted its report, it forcefully recommended that all 50 States should make 21 the legal drinking age.

And yet, today, less than half that number have the age-21 law. And that leaves us with a crazy quilt of different States' drinking laws and far too many blood borders, borders where teens drive across to reach States with lower drinking ages. And these teenagers drink and then careen home and all too often cause crippling or fatal accidents.

This problem is bigger than the individual States. It's a grave national problem, and it touches all our lives. With the problem so clear-cut and the proven solution at hand, we have no misgiving about this judicious use of Federal power. I'm convinced that it will help persuade State legislators to act in the national interest to save our children's lives, by raising the drinking age to 21 across the country.

Now, many have toiled hard to make this bill possible—Members of Congress, Secretary Dole, thousands of concerned Americans like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Students Against Drunk Driving—by supporting legislation, they've done this nation a service. And each of them certainly have my heartfelt thanks and, I think, the thanks of all the people in our country.

So, God bless you. And I am now going to write instead of talk, I'll sign.

Note: The President spoke at 1:29 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Candy Lightner, president and founder of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, and Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth H. Dole.

As enacted, H.R. 4616 is Public Law 98363, approved July 17.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Signing a National Minimum Drinking Age Bill Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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