Trying to reduce highway deaths and injuries, the Reagan administration yesterday announced a long-awaited publicity campaign with private industry to get drunk drivers off the road and persuade motorists to buckle up.
With 35 high-ranking industry officials looking on, President Reagan inaugurated the safety campaign, in which comic book characters, television celebrities, airline flight attendants--and even the Goodyear Blimp--will be used to try to reduce the 50,000 deaths and 3.5 million injuries that occur each year from traffic accidents.
"Americans are outraged that such slaughter can take place on our highways," Reagan said in a Rose Garden ceremony.
While earlier administrations have tried to promote auto safety by issuing new safety rules, the Reagan administration, citing regulatory overkill, is relying on the voluntary public relations effort.
The seat belt campaign has been a pet project of Raymond A. Peck, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Peck last year revoked a regulation that would have required airbags or automatically closing seat belts in new cars and has turned instead to the voluntary seat belt campaign.
Peck's critics in the insurance industry and consumer movement contend that past attempts at voluntary persuasion have failed.
Reagan said yesterday he decided to get behind the drunk driver campaign after getting a letter last fall from Rep. Michael Barnes, (D-Md.), and 339 other members of Congress concerned about drunk driving.
The 30-member commission on drunk driving, announced yesterday by Reagan, is to act as an information clearinghouse for state and local groups.
Congressional officials complain that the administration does not support a bill that would encourage states to set up comprehensive alcohol traffic safety programs. The administration opposes the bill's provision which could deny states highway funding if they did not adopt a minimum drunk-driving program.
Several companies yesterday announced safety publicity programs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. said its fleet of three blimps will display messages through the summer urging motorists to use seat belts.
Warner Communications has given the government permission to use its superhero comic book characters such as Superman in safety belt promotions. Republic Airlines said its flight attendants will remind passengers to buckle up in both planes and cars. Lorimar Productions has started using safety belts in its television series "Knots Landing."