Statement of the
National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives
before the
Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee
of the
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
May 7, 1997

I.Introduction

Good morning. My name is Elizabeth Baker, Chief of the Traffic Safety Division of the Maryland Highway Administration. I am representing the National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives (NAGHSR). NAGHSR is a non-profit organization representing state highway safety agencies. Its members are appointed by their Governors and are responsible for implementing the federal non-construction highway safety grant programs. (These grant programs are under the jurisdiction of the Senate Commerce Committee.) However, NAGHSR's members work closely with the state departments of transportation which have primary responsibility for implementing the safety construction programs, and some of the NEXTEA safety construction proposals have implications for the non-construction safety programs.

Today, I'd like to discuss two issues: 1) NAGHSR's philosophy about the reauthorization of the federal safety programs and 2) the Association's position on the Administration's proposed NEXTEA legislation. In deference to the Committee's jurisdiction, we will limit our remarks to the safety construction and related portions of the NEXTEA proposal.

II.NAGHSR's Views on Reauthorization

A.Justification for Federal Involvement in Safety

In NAGHSR's view, there is clearly a critical role for the federal government in highway safety.

Motor vehicle crashes are a major and costly public health problem for this country. According to The Economic Cost of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 1994, prepared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle injuries and fatalities cost the nation $150.5 billion annually -- 2.2% of the gross national product -- in medical costs, workplace costs, lost productivity, insurance administration, legal and court costs, property damage, and other costs. Roughly 9% ($13.8 billion) of all motor vehicle crash costs are paid for by public revenues, including 6% ($9.2 billion) from federal revenues and 3% ($4.6 billion) from state and local revenues. In effect, taxpayers pay an additional $144 per household annually to cover the costs of motor vehicle crashes.

Eleven percent ($17 billion) of total crash costs is for medical treatment. Twenty-four percent of medical costs ($4.08 billion) is borne by the public. Of this amount, $2.38 billion are federal costs and $1.7 billion are state costs.

In addition, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace fatalities and injuries. Work-related motor vehicle crashes on and off the job cost employers $53 billion in 1992, according to the latest analysis prepared by NHTSA. To produce profits equal to employer costs of motor vehicle-related injury, employers would need $530 billion in sales -- more than three times the annual growth of the U.S. economy.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for persons between the ages of 6-28. They are the leading cause of all unintentional injuries and one of the leading causes of serious head injury, including epilepsy. 41,798 people were killed and 3.4 million people were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 1995 -- one fatality every 12.5 minutes and one injury every 15.5 seconds.

Federal action is urgently needed to address this serious problem, save lives, and reduce public health, workplace and related expenditures. The costs of inaction in highway safety are great. According to NHTSA's report, Saving Lives and Dollars, if the fatality and injury rate remained at the 1992 (and current) rate of 1.7 fatalities per 100 million miles of travel, motor vehicle-related fatalities would still increase by the year 2000. Projected fatality and injury-related economic costs would increase by $7.4 billion. If the fatality and injury rate increased from the 1.7 rate, total injuries, fatalities and costs would increase even more. The number of fatalities would increase by 5,280 and the economic costs would increase by $13 billion (including a $350 million increase in publicly funded health care and an additional $1 billion in taxes to cover lost tax revenue and increased public assistance) in 2000.

A modest federal investment in highway safety could yield substantial savings in both public and private sector costs. At a time when the Administration and Congress are exploring ways to reduce health care costs across the nation, federal funding for programs which help prevent costly motor vehicle fatalities and injuries should not be overlooked. Given the size of the highway safety problem and the importance of federal highway safety grant funds in solving that problem, it is clear that the federal government must continue to be directly involved in highway safety issues.

B.Federal Role in Safety

NAGHSR strongly believes that there is a legitimate and appropriate role for the federal government in highway safety and that role is one of partner. Over the past forty years, the federal-aid highway program has been a "federally-assisted, state-administered" program: the federal government provides the funding, leadership, guidelines, and assistance to the states, and the states implement the program. In our view, the federal highway safety program has been and should continue to be implemented in that same manner.

The federal government can provide leadership by setting national goals, addressing emerging issues, convening summits on issues, developing national educational campaigns, and providing guidance on issues that are no longer mandatory, such as excessive speed.

The federal government can also assist states in moving toward more cost-effective, performance-based programming. By re-engineering federal grant program administration so that it is more results-oriented, states will be allowed to set their own goals, develop creative strategies that are appropriate for their states, and evaluate their progress in meeting goals.

The federal government can provide training, develop training standards, develop and demonstrate new programs and technology, facilitate technology and information sharing, and research and evaluate highway safety issues and programs.

The federal government should provide adequate funding so that states and communities will be able to implement comprehensive and effective highway safety programs. Federal funding for the highway safety grant programs have remained relatively constant and at levels well below the authorized amounts. At the same time, demands on the grant programs have increased substantially while the buying power of those programs have declined. Significantly more funds will be needed in the future if we are to continue to make progress in safety.

C.Reauthorization Philosophy

States strongly support federal highway safety programs which give them the flexibility to address their priority highway safety needs. Federal programs should allow states to determine the mix of highway safety projects which are appropriate for them through a state problem identification and planning process. Consequently, NAGHSR is strongly supportive of performance-based programming. Under such an approach, states must identify their goals, identify strategies that satisfy those goals, monitor their progress in reaching the goals, and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies that have been selected. Performance-based programming is results-oriented: it allows states to work toward specific results without dictating how those results must be achieved.

States support federal highway safety programs which are flexible enough and provide enough resources for states to focus on emerging issues. Drowsy driving, aggressive drivers, older drivers, repeat impaired driving offenders, young adult drinking drivers, and women drivers are some of the issues that have emerged in recent years and for which there are insufficient federal programs and resources. At least three of these issues -- older drivers, fatigue and aggressive drivers -- will require improvements in roadway safety.

States support federal highway safety programs which encourage coordination and cooperation between the diverse state and local agencies with an interest in safety. In every state there are many agencies with responsibility for some aspect of highway safety. This may include the state department of transportation, highway safety office, motor carrier safety administrator, railroad agency, law enforcement agency, emergency medical services agency, education department, health department and other state agencies. Several of these agencies must satisfy different federal safety planning and programming requirements. Until ISTEA, there was little attempt to coordinate state safety plans and programs or maximize the use of federal safety grant funds.

ISTEA required states to implement a Safety Management System (SMS) and five other management systems. Under SMS, states were required to identify a safety "focal point" or lead agency within a state which would coordinate all safety-related activities. They were also required to form an SMS advisory committee with members of state agencies with an interest or responsibility for safety. States were required to develop a process for identifying state safety problems and selecting the priority problems, develop a coordinated plan to address those problems, and monitor and evaluate the safety strategies which were implemented.

Last year, the SMS and other management system requirements were repealed under the National Highway System Act. However, all of the states have opted to continue to coordinate state and local safety activities, some to a greater degree than others. NAGHSR believes that the reauthorization should place a premium on this kind of safety coordination and, unlike ISTEA, should provide resources to states for that purpose.

D. Sanctions v. Incentives

NAGHSR firmly believes that incentives, rather than sanctions, are the right way to positively influence state behavior. Incentives reward states that already have appropriate laws and programs in place and induce other states to enact such laws and programs. Incentives induce states to "stretch," to try a little harder, and to strengthen laws and programs already in place. However, incentives do not penalize states if they do not attain their goals.

The Section 410 impaired driving incentive grant program is an excellent example of an incentive program that works. In FY 96, 32 states were approved for 410 funding. In fact, there have been more states applying for Section 410 grants than there is available funds. The 410 program has successfully contributed to the passage of state impaired driving legislation: Since enactment of ISTEA and partly as a result of the Section 410 program, 8 states enacted .08 BAC laws, 34 states enacted zero tolerance laws, and 10 states enacted administrative license revocation laws.

The federal government has too often forced states to address a particular highway safety issue by threatening them with sanctions if they fail to act in the specified manner and during a specified time period. The sanctions are often not targeted to the problem or issue: states with impaired driving problems may have their highway construction funds withheld even though the withholding may do little to solve the impaired driving problem. Further, sanctions are frequently counter-productive: by withholding federal highway construction funds from non-compliant states, the highways become deteriorated, which in turn, leads to unsafe driving conditions.

Redirection of funds has not been any more successful than sanctions in our view. Although the redirection is a more targeted approach and the states do not lose any federal highway construction funding, it is still problematical. In many states, the redirection provisions of ISTEA created divisions between the state highway safety office and the state department of transportation. Last year, before the final passage of the NHS Act, the highway safety offices in several non-compliant states were pressured by their DOTs to release the redirected highway construction funds even before they were legally allowed to do so. The DOTs believed that the highway safety offices were holding their construction funds hostage. The situation was particularly troubling in those cases where the state highway safety offices are part of the state DOT. At the state level, the redirection created resentments, confusion, and ill will toward highway safety which was directly in conflict with the intent of the legislation.

Sanctions and redirection measure state progress only in terms of their ability to pass a single, often narrowly defined piece of legislation. They ignore the fact that there may be more than one appropriate approach to a highway safety problem and fail to measure a state's overall performance in addressing that problem. These approaches ignore the fact that the legislation may have less than the desired results unless the public is adequately informed about the law's existence and potential consequences, the law is adequately enforced, and it is adjudicated in a manner consistent with legislative intent. The sanctions/redirection approach overlooks the attempts states may have made to pass the legislation and ignores differences in state problems, needs, and resources. Both approaches assume that the federal government -- and only the federal government -- knows what is best for the states. As a result, these paternalistic, heavy-handed approaches have created an enormous amount of resentment among the states. Sanctions and redirection have the potential for doing more harm than good, as occurred with the National Maximum Speed Limit.

For these reasons, we urge the Committee to oppose proposals currently circulating which would sanction states for failure to enact .08 BAC laws and redirect construction funds if states fail to enact primary safety belt laws. Congress should enact strategies that bring the safety community together rather than those that pull them apart.

III. NAGHSR Response to NEXTEA

A. FHWA 402 Program

Under ISTEA, the 402 behavioral safety program has been authorized in two separate titles by two Senate authorizing committees. This committee had jurisdiction over the FHWA portion of the program -- that portion which concerns roadway safety. The FHWA 402 program is essentially a planning program which allows states to identify roadway safety-related problems. The states then use their STP funds to address and correct the identified problems.

Last year, NHTSA and FHWA (the federal agencies which jointly administer the 402 program) convinced the Appropriations Committees to fund the program in a single appropriation instead of two separate appropriations, as had historically occurred. This change was intended to streamline the manner in which states receive their 402 allocations. States have been supportive of this change because it has greatly facilitated the obligation of 402 funds.

The Administration has proposed that the legislative authorities for these two portions of the program should also be combined. NAGHSR strongly concurs. There no longer appears to be any reason for the separate authorities. The program planning and implementation requirements have been jointly developed and program oversight is jointly administered. The distinction between the program components has become blurred over time. For example, FHWA has developed a red light running program which is aimed at affecting the behavior of driver at traffic signals.

DOT has altered, with considerable state input, the administration of the Section 402 program so that it is more performance-oriented. NAGHSR strongly supports this approach and recommends that it be continued under the reauthorization. NAGHSR also supports the Administration suggestion that the national safety priorities be continued as federal guidelines. Few other changes should be made to the program.

B.Safety Infrastructure Program

NEXTEA would replace the safety set-aside under the Surface Transportation Program by combining the safety construction programs into a single authorization which would be known as the Infrastructure Safety Program. Funding for rail grade crossing and hazard elimination would remain separate, but there would be greater transferability from the grade crossing program into the hazard elimination program. There would also be flexibility from the hazard elimination program into the non-construction safety programs if a state met the integrated safety planning requirements under the Integrated Safety program. The funding ratios for the two programs would be about 1/3 for the grade crossing portion and 2/3 for the hazard elimination program. NEXTEA would also broaden the funding eligibility by allowing up to half the grade crossing portion of the funding to be used for traffic enforcement, grade crossing education and trespassing countermeasures.

NAGHSR supports all of these provisions and believes that the funding proportions reflect the size of the problem in each area. We support the proposed formula changes in the rail grade crossing program which will help direct federal funds where they are most needed. We strongly support the change in the funding eligibility and believe that the changes make the rail grade crossing program a more comprehensive safety program. NAGHSR also supports the increased flexibility between the grade crossing program and the hazard elimination program, and between the latter program and the non-construction program.

However, at least one transportation organization is concerned that 100% of hazard elimination program funds can be transferred into the non-construction programs. The group has suggested that the authorizing legislation should also allow funds to be transferred from the non-construction programs into the hazard elimination program so that the transferability is reciprocal.

NAGHSR would strongly oppose such a suggestion. Based upon past experience, we believe that the state departments of transportation would transfer non-construction program funds into construction programs so that there would be little or no motor carrier or behavioral funding remaining. NAGHSR suggests that a cap (e.g. 25%) be placed on the amount of the hazard elimination funds which could be transferred to other programs in order to protect the integrity of those funds and address the group's concerns. If that approach is unacceptable, NAGHSR would support dropping the transfer provision entirely.

C.Integrated Safety Program

NEXTEA would create a new integrated safety fund to encourage the continuation of the kind of integrated, coordinated planning previously required under the Safety Management System requirements. Qualifying states would have to compete for funds and satisfy certain eligibility criteria. States would have to show that they have an integrated safety planning process and have established goals and performance benchmarks. Qualifying states could use the funds for safety construction, motor carrier or behavioral program purposes.

NAGHSR supports the proposed Integrated Safety Program in concept. We believe that it encourages the kind of coordinated safety planning which should be a goal of the reauthorization. However, the eligibility criteria are not fully outlined in NEXTEA, so it is difficult to envision exactly how the program would be implemented. We encourage DOT to explore possible implementation strategies with Congress as well as safety and transportation organizations to clarify this proposal before a reauthorization bill is finalized.

For example, Congress could consider a grant eligibility criteria relating to occupant protection. States could receive Integrated Safety program grant funds if they enacted a primary safety belt law or satisfied a specific safety belt use rate (e.g., 75% in the first two years and 80% in the last three years). This would provide incentives to states to improve their safety belt use rates rather than punishing states if they do not. It would complement the proposed (but under funded) occupant protection incentive grant program and provide additional funding for an important national safety priority.

D. Program Funding

The biggest safety problem that needs to be addressed in the reauthorization is the lack of adequate funding for all highway safety programs. Federal funding for driver and vehicle highway safety programs has not kept pace with inflation, the growth in licensed drivers and registered vehicles, or the increase in travel in the country. Hence, the "buying power" of the federal safety dollar has greatly diminished.

Total funding for non-construction behavior programs has been too small relative to the size of the problem and has not increased at a sufficient rate. At the same time, demands for highway safety grant funds have increased tremendously. New issues (such as fatigue, aggressive driver, young adult drinking driver) have emerged for which there are no new federal highway safety funds. New initiatives such as SMS planning and Safe Communities have been launched without the benefit of new federal funding.

Without adequate funding, the rate of progress that has been made in highway safety cannot be sustained. We've made great progress by reaching the easy targets and implementing the easy "fixes." In order to influence the behavior of hard-to-reach and other target populations and address safety problems in a comprehensive and coordinated manner, the states will need significantly more resources.

The Administration has proposed to fund the 402 program at only $25 million per year above current levels. The Safety Infrastructure program is slated to be funded at the same level as FY 97 funding for the grade crossing and hazard elimination programs.

Needless to say, the proposed funding in NEXTEA for the safety grant programs is a slight improvement over current funding. It is not, however, consistent with the fact that safety is DOT's "north star" and the leading priority of the Department. NAGHSR urges that funding for the safety grant programs should be increased above the levels recommended by the Administration, particularly funding for the 402 program. Current funding for non-construction safety programs is less than 1% of the federal-aid highway program. Funding for those programs should be doubled. Funding for safety construction should increase by more than the proposed $100 million level.

The need for increased funding is clear. The time for that increase is now. If safety is truly a top priority, then let's start funding it in a way that matches safety's priority status.

We concur that the proposed funding for all of the programs in NEXTEA is insufficient and that Congress must find a way to increase the overall funding. NAGHSR is pleased that Senator Chafee has proposed legislation which would allow some increases in overall funding. We view the legislation as a step in the right direction and are optimistic that Congress will find a way to increase transportation funding without damaging efforts to balance the federal budget.

NAGHSR looks forward to working with this Committee as it considers reauthorization of federal safety grant programs. We appreciate the opportunity to testify before you on these important issues.