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Summer 2008 | Vol. 10 | No. 4
Chris Murphy Presents GHSA's Highway Safety Priorities to Congress
Accountability, emerging highway safety issues (such as distracted driving, older drivers and young drivers), and the lack of progress in highway safety were the key themes that emerged during a July 16 hearing on the effectiveness of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) highway safety programs, held by the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. GHSA Chairman Chris Murphy testified on the first panel, as did Deputy NHTSA Administrator Jim Ports and General Accountability Office (GAO) Director of Physical Infrastructure, Katherine Siggerud. Representatives from AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, MADD, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and the American Center for Van and Tire Safety testified on the second panel.
Murphy called for a national strategic highway safety plan that would set a goal of zero fatalities. He also advocated more funding for the data improvement program, a streamlined grant application process, more flexibility between grant programs, broader eligible uses of grant funding and a new speed management incentive grant program. Murphy made it clear that one way to make progress is for states to enact both primary belt and universal motorcycle helmet laws. These two laws have the potential to save more lives than any other. "They will cure the disease (of unsafe highways)," Murphy said.
Deputy Administrator Ports reviewed the litany of safety initiatives and programs that NHTSA is undertaking. Ports reiterated NHTSA's strong support for primary belt laws and the value of high visibility enforcement of those laws. He also noted the importance of motorcycle helmet laws and discussed U.S. DOT Secretary Mary Peters' request to Congress to allow Section 2010 motorcyclist safety funding for helmet education.
Katherine Siggerud testified that NHTSA had improved its oversight of the federal behavioral grant programs but still did not have adequate data on the effectiveness of those programs. She urged NHTSA to identify performance measures with which to gauge progress. She noted, however, that if states are required to use performance measures, they will want Congress to fund improvements in their data systems that measure program effectiveness. She also recommended that NHTSA track the recommendations from state Management Reviews and Special Management Reviews to find out where states need improvement and better target the Agency's technical assistance to states.
Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), ex officio member of the Subcommittee and Chair of the full committee, expressed great frustration about the lack of progress that is being made. He noted that European Union nations had made considerably more progress than this country and wondered why we couldn't do better. He closed the hearing by indicating that the country will do better as a result of policies and programs in the next surface transportation legislation.
The issue of highway safety was also on the agenda in the Senate. On Thursday, July 18, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee held a safety hearing. The committee heard testimony from the Federal Highway Administration, GAO, AASHTO, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said "the fact that we have failed to reduce crashes and deaths on our highways is a failure of leadership" and advocated for a strong federal role in highway safety, citing the 21 drinking age and .08 BAC laws as examples of effective sanctions enacted by the federal government.
Testifying on behalf of AASHTO was Susan Martinovich, Director of the Nevada DOT and Vice Chair of AASHTO's Standing Committee on Highway Traffic Safety. Martinovich echoed many of GHSA's positions, including recommending: increased funding and flexibility for state highway safety programs, consolidated NHTSA funding, and a streamlined grant application process.