Advocates is a coalition of consumer, health, safety, law enforcement and insurance companies, organizations, and agents working together to support the adoption of laws and programs to reduce deaths and injuries on our highways. As a highway safety organization, Advocates is unique. We focus our efforts on all areas affecting highway and auto safety -- the roadway, the vehicle, and the driver. Founded in 1989, Advocates has a long history of working closely with the Committee on Environment and Public Works in the development of federal legislative policies to advance highway safety. I would also add that Advocates has probably worked in the state of nearly every Senator represented on this Committee to strengthen drunk driving laws, to enact occupant restraint laws, to close dangerous gaps in child restraint laws, and to advance other laws that make our streets and highways safer.
This morning I will discuss the need for this Congress, in this particular legislation, the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA II), to seriously address the unnecessary and preventable carnage on our highways. Ms. Claybrook will then discuss a safety agenda that we urge this Congress to include in ISTEA II. Before we complete our brief remarks before you this morning, hundreds of motor vehicle crashes will have occurred, several individuals who left for work or school this morning will have died, and hundreds of life-threatening injuries will have required emergency medical care.
Every day millions of American families leave their homes to travel by car to medical appointments, soccer practices, grocery stores, shopping malls, and libraries. Although our nation's highway system has created mobility opportunities that are the envy of the world, it has also resulted in a morbidity and mortality toll that is not.
What if a commercial airplane crashed, not once a month, but every day, seven days a week, year in and year out? What if the outbreak of a new flu virus resulted in the death of more than 9,000 of our children under the age of 21? The public outcry would be deafening and the response of Congress would be swift, certain, and decisive.
In fact, the number and frequency of deaths cited in these hypotheticals illustrate the current statistics on death and injury due to motor vehicle crashes every year. Day in and day out, year in and year out, since the late 1970s, approximately 115 Americans will not return home at the end of the day. Every hour more than 400 Americans are taken to hospitals for serious injuries because of motor vehicle crashes. According to annual crash data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), nearly 42,000 people die and another 3.4 million Americans suffer serious injuries every year on our highways because of motor vehicle crashes, costing society $150 billion, or $580 per man, woman and child.
The death toll on our highways makes driving the number one cause of death and injury for young people ages 5 to 27. Highway crashes cause 94 percent of all transportation fatalities and 99 percent of all transportation injuries, yet traffic safety programs receive only one percent of the funding of the U.S. DOT budget. The staggering loss of lives and the incidence of life- threatening injuries occurring each year is best described as a public health crisis.
II. THE CHALLENGE
The cause of these deaths and injuries are reported every day in newspapers and on television in communities across the country - drunk driving, speed, aggressive driving, inexperience, and indifference to traffic safety laws. Although some progress had been made in the mid-1970s and 1980s, there has been no appreciable decline in motor vehicle deaths and injuries in the last five years. By measuring fatality rates based on either vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or deaths per 100,000 population, the number of Americans killed in car crashes has remained basically constant the past five years.
Reducing motor vehicles deaths and injuries will become more challenging and critical as we enter the 21st century. Yesterday, in this hearing room Advocates, joined by Members of Congress, insurance representatives, medical professionals, law enforcement and victims held a press conference to release a new report, "The Highway Safety Deficit: Who Pays and who Delays." This report outlines the status of the nation's highway safety laws across the country as a backdrop to the current congressional debate about reauthorization of ISTEA. Let me briefly summarize some key findings of the report and the safety obstacles in the road ahead:
Since Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit 24 states have speeds higher than 70 miles per hour (MPH) on rural interstates, with 10 states at 75 mph, and Montana having no daytime speed limits for cars. A troubling trend of increased deaths and injuries as a result of higher speed limits is emerging. New Mexico and California experienced fatalities and injuries on highways where speeds had been increased. In California, roads that retained the 55 mph speed limit showed a 8 percent reduction in fatal crashes. Furthermore, despite the higher posted speed limits, cars are traveling faster. For example, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) studied vehicle speeds before and after the change in posted speed limits on highways in California, Texas and New Mexico. In California, on highways that had posted speed limits increased to 65 mph, 29 percent of vehicles were travelling at speeds above 70 mph. One year later, 41 percent of the vehicles are those highways were traveling at 70 mph or above.
-- In the National Highway System (NHS) designation legislation, a federal program encouraging states to enact all rider motorcycle helmet laws was repealed. Since January, 21 states that currently have all rider motorcycle helmet laws are considering bills to repeal this lifesaving law. In fact, Arkansas has the distinction of being the first state to repeal its law since the NHS bill was enacted. Texas may be the second.
-- The United States has the lowest safety belt usage compared to Western European countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. To date, only 11 states and the District of Columbia have primary, or standard, enforcement safety belt laws. States that have standard enforcement laws experience, on average, a 14 percent increase in safety belt use rates. The NHTSA estimates that 45 percent of those who died without belts -- 12,000 people -- could have been saved if they had used safety belts.
-- In 1995, drunk driving deaths rose for the first time in a decade. Yet, only 14 states have .08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) laws despite a recent study by Boston University School of Public Health that 500 to 600 lives would be saved annually if every state adopted .08 BAC.
-- Enactment of a provision in NHS which requires states to enact "zero tolerance laws," making it illegal for those under the legal drinking age of 21 to have any alcohol in their systems while operating a motor vehicle, has energized state action. While 26 states, as well as the District of Columbia, had already enacted zero tolerance statutes prior to passage of the federal law, eleven additional states enacted bills last year and legislation is pending in six other states this year.
-- Each year nearly 5,000 Americans die in truck crashes. According to the IIHS, in 1995, 98 percent of the people killed in two vehicle crashes involving passenger cars and big trucks were occupants of the passenger vehicles. There is nearly unanimous public support for a vigorous federal leadership role in enhancing truck safety and limiting the size and weights of trucks.
-- Budget cuts in previous years coupled with inflation have severely weakened the funding of traffic safety grants to states and restrained the resources of law enforcement to enforce traffic safety laws. In 1980, the major traffic safety grant program for states was funded at $196.5 million. In FY 1997 it was funded at $128 million. This reduction in funding means about a 66 percent reduction in the purchasing power of the funding despite the program's enormous benefits.
-- According to NHTSA, teenage drivers are significantly over-represented in fatal crashes compared to other age groups. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in the year 2000, the youth population (ages 15 to 20) of this country will be 23.9 million, an increase of 10 percent from 1995. In the next decade, this age group is expected to increase by almost 17 percent.
The good news is that effective and successful remedies are on the shelf already or are underway in many states and communities and are responsible for saving lives and preventing injuries. Stricter drunk driving laws, stronger safety belt laws, increased financial resources to fund traffic safety programs, committed and sustained enforcement of traffic safety laws like speed limits and red light running, comprehensive graduated licensing programs for .inexperienced teenage drivers, improved motor vehicle and truck safety requirements, and limits on the size and weight of big trucks are all part of the solution.
III. NATIONAL AND STATE LEADERSHIP
In any national crisis claiming so many young lives, inflicting so many debilitating and costly injuries and extracting such a substantial personal and financial toll, the country looks to its elected leaders for help to advance solutions and advocate effective strategies. Congress has an opportunity this year to enact a road map for improving highway safety that will reduce deaths and injuries and save federal taxpayer dollars. One of the most significant bills that Congress will take up in the 105th session is the reauthorization of federal funding programs to support highway maintenance and construction, transit capital and operating programs, and traffic and motor vehicle safety programs.
In 1991, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, or ISTEA. In addition to setting highway and transit program priorities for states, urban, suburban and rural communities, ISTEA included an extensive highway safety agenda to address preventable deaths and injuries on our highways. For the first time in the history of the federal highway and transit programs, House and Senate leaders enacted legislative provisions which, in total, comprised a safety agenda that resulted in state adoption of safety belt and all rider motorcycle helmet laws, safer cars and trucks, and reasonable limits on the spread of double and triple-trailer trucks.
Since January, when the first session of the 105th Congress began, the political debate on highway funding conducted by Members of Congress, Administration officials, governors, state Department of Transportation directors, highway construction lobbies and other interest groups, has centered almost exclusively on the division of federal gas tax revenues between donor and donee states, the highway and transit funding needs of urban v. rural communities, the determination of what are legitimate v. illegitimate uses of trust fund dollars, and the on-budget v. off-budget congressional battles. Little, if any, of the political discourse has addressed the "public health v. public harm" effects of this legislation. Because of the large sums of money at stake, the political terms of the debate focus on state winners and losers in dollars and cents. But what about the winners and losers among the highway users? Which American families traveling by car will be protected on our highways from drunk drivers, excessive speeding, occupant restraint laws, big trucks and aggressive driving?
Over the six year life of the reauthorization bill submitted by the Clinton Administration, the National Economic Crossroads Transportation Efficiency Act (NEXTEA), more than $170 billion in surface transportation spending is being proposed. However, during that same six year period of highway funding, unless the tide of fatalities and injuries on our highways is stemmed, almost 250,000 people will die. This number of deaths is roughly the equivalent of the population of the city of Erie, Pennsylvania or Boulder, Colorado. Eighteen million more will be seriously injured, equal to the population of the state of New York or Texas, at a cost of over $900 billion, enough money to cover the full four year costs (including tuition, room and board) for twice the number of students currently attending a four-year public university. The entire cost of the ISTEA II authorization could be covered if we realize just a 20 percent reduction in highway deaths and injuries.
W. WHAT THE TAXPAYERS SAY
Last year, in anticipation of congressional consideration of the reauthorization of ISTEA, Advocates sought to determine what Americans think about specific highway and auto safety issues, policies, and programs. Advocates commissioned a well-known national pollster, Louis Harris, to survey a cross-section of the public. The results are compelling. The public is seriously concerned about the dangers of highway travel and decisive majorities support a strong federal response to address highway safety. When releasing the poll results in September of last year, Louis Harris said, "[i]n an era marked sharply by a rush to turn over many substantive areas of government and regulation to the states and localities in many areas, highway and auto safety stands out as a significant exception to the rule."
Despite conventional wisdom that the public wants less government involvement in regulatory matters, decisive majorities of Americans believe it is important for the government to play a strong role in highway and auto safety regulations.
Key findings of the poll are:
-- 94 percent say it is important to have federal regulations of car safety standards, with 77 percent stating such a presence is very important.
-- 91 percent assert that federal regulation of large truck safety on the highways is important, with 74 percent viewing federal involvement as very important.
-- 91 percent believe federal involvement in assuring safe highways is important, with 78 percent saying such a role is very important.
-- 87 percent say it is important to have the federal government setting strict rules about food and product safety, highways and airline safety, and safety on the job, with 62 percent citing such regulation as very important.
-- 80 percent say a federal presence is important in passing laws which mandate safety belt use, with 61 percent saying federal involvement in this area is very important.
-- 77 percent believe it is important for the federal government to pass laws to get people to wear motorcycle helmets, with 61 percent stating such laws are very important.
-- 73 percent say a federal presence in controlling excessive speed on highways is important, with 47 percent stating this presence is very important.
-- 72 percent believe it is important to have the federal government setting safe speed limits, with 48 percent stating that this role is very important.
V. THE SAFETEA COALITION
One measure of how seriously Congress is addressing highway deaths and injuries will be found in the safety agenda advanced in ISTEA II. From STEP 21 to STARS 2000, from HOTTEA to NEXTEA, highway construction interests, elected officials and state transportation officials have been rallying in support and in opposition to issues such as new funding formulae, the need for special projects, and program structure. However, the true measure of this legislative initiative will be whether the transportation bill that leads us into the 21st century will advance or retreat on highway safety. Yesterday, Advocates participated with representatives of the medical, business, law enforcement and public interest communities to announce the formation of the SAFETEA Coalition. Attached is a list of the current members in this coalition. To date, more than 60 organizations from all over the country have come together and share the following common views.
It is unacceptable that nearly 42,000 Americans die on our highways and another 3 million more are injured, costing society more than $150 billion every year. It is unacceptable that the rate of safety belt use in our nation is the lowest of any industrialized nation in the world. It is unacceptable that each year approximately 41 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol. It is unacceptable that each year nearly 5,000 Americans die in truck crashes and 100,000 are injured, and almost all are the occupants of cars. And it is unacceptable that truck driver fatigue is a factor in 40 percent of all truck crashes, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), yet trucking interests want to expand the hours of driving regulations.
The members of the SAFETEA Coalition are the individuals who pay the tax at the pump and their voice is loud and clear - safety must be a priority in ISTEA II. According to the previously mentioned Louis Harris public opinion poll, nine out of ten Americans want the federal government to play a strong leadership role in highway safety, similar to aviation safety and food safety. In fact, Louis Harris, a man who has performed thousands of public opinion polls, stated, "[t]his is the first comprehensive survey I have conducted on highway safety in my 40 years as a national pollster, and I was amazed at the strong level of support for federal and state measures to make our highways and cars safer." He was particularly struck by the public's sentiments in light of the trend of returning governance to the states.
VI. THE SAFETEA PROPOSAL
Advocates and the SAFETEA Coalition support a comprehensive and feasible plan that needs to be included in ISTEA II and will reduce the human loss on our highways. This list is by no means exhaustive of the safety measures our nation needs to mitigate the public health crisis occurring on our highways. Government studies show that each year, traffic injuries are the principal cause of on-the-job fatalities and the third largest cause of all deaths in the United States. However, far more people are injured and survive motor vehicle crashes than die in these crashes. These injured persons often require medical care and many require long-term care and rehabilitation. For children, the problem is equally dramatic as motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 6 to 14. In 1995, the 0-14 age group accounted for 7 percent (2,794) of all traffic fatalities. (Source: Presidential Initiative for Increasing Seat Belt Use Nationwide). These figures are particularly disturbing when considering that traffic "accidents" are not accidental at all. They are preventable and predictable and our nation must move forward with the following legislative proposal to curb the number of people killed on our roads.
A. Traffic Safety Funding
One of the most critical weapons in the battle to reduce deaths and injuries is adequate resources to support programs and initiatives to advance safety. In 1997, the entire budget for NHTSA, for both motor vehicle safety research and regulatory activities, as well as the highway traffic safety grant program for states, was just over $313 million. This allocation represents only 1 percent of the budget of the entire U.S. DOT, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and yet, highway deaths represent 94 percent of all transportation fatalities and 99 percent of transportation injuries.
The highway safety grant programs are a major tool in the effort to reduce deaths and injuries on the nation's highways and consequently reduce federal, state and local costs. According to NHTSA studies, the economic benefits (not including consideration of factors for pain and suffering or loss of life) of traffic safety programs exceed their costs by a 9 to 1 ratio. Additional dollars in these programs will be multiplied many times in terms of benefits realized. For this reason, Advocates and the SAFETEA Coalition support increasing the expenditure of federal resources in a number of specific areas that will reap tremendous benefits in terms of saving lives, reducing serious injuries, but also saving taxpayer dollars.
Since the 1980s, the funding of traffic safety programs has been hit twice. For example, in 1980, the Section 402 traffic safety grant program, a state formula grant-in-aid program, was funded at $196.5 million. For FY 1997 it was funded at $128 million. Not only has this program witnessed a significant drop in funding, but the effects of inflation have also dramatically cut the purchasing power of this program. The 1980 funding level of $196.5 million is equal to about $377 million in 1997 dollars. Thus traffic safety programs have endured a 66 percent reduction in purchasing power.
In addition to supporting the funding increases recommended by the U.S. DOT in its NEXTEA proposal, Advocates supports a sustained and stable funding program for targeted traffic enforcement initiatives. Advocates and the SAFETEA Coalition urge the Senate to provide a half cent from the sale of every gallon of gasoline for safety programs. This would result in approximately $600 million for a variety of highway safety efforts. The $600 million is a small price tag for the $150 billion we all pay every year because of the nearly 42,000 deaths and more than 3 million serious injuries on our highways.
If a half cent is dedicated to traffic safety programs by this Congress, it will significantly help address the problems of aggressive driving, drunk driving, safety belt use, excessive speeding, and red light running. The result will be a safer driving environment for our families. These proposals include:
-- $150 million for a national safety belt enforcement program modeled after the "Click It or Ticket" effort in North Carolina. Every state would benefit from the success of this program in increasing safety belt use.
-- $150 million for states to use in the enforcement of all traffic safety laws which would begin to address the issue of aggressive driving. Law enforcement resources are severely strained and traffic safety enforcement is oftentimes a low priority. Every state has many of the traffic safety laws we know will reduce deaths and injuries, but most do not have the resources to adequately enforce these laws. The benefits of tough traffic enforcement go beyond safer streets and highways. The strict enforcement of traffic safety laws has payoffs in other areas of crime. I am reminded that Timothy McVeigh was apprehended after the Oklahoma City bombing because of a traffic infraction.
-- $200 million for the Section 402 Traffic Safety Grant Programs. This amount is a $33 million increase over the Administration's recommended funding level and brings the program closer to the funding level it would be if cuts and inflation had not diminished its purchasing power.
-- $100 million for impaired driving programs. This $60 million increase in funding from the Administration's recommendation would provide the necessary financial resources to address this highway crime.
The American public is gravely concerned about the dangers on our highways and the authorization of these increases would be a conservative, yet constructive, step in achieving a higher level of safety on our highways.
B. Safety Belts
According to insurance and government research, safety belts are the most effective means of reducing fatalities and serious injuries when traffic crashes occur. They are estimated to save 9,500 lives in America each year. Research has found that lap/shoulder belts, when used properly, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. For light truck occupants, safety belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and moderate-to-critical injury by 65 percent.
Not only do safety belts save lives and reduce injuries, but they also provide economic benefits. According to a NHTSA study on the benefits of safety belts, the average inpatient charge for unbelted passenger vehicle drivers admitted to a medical facility as a result of a crash injury was more than 55 percent greater than the average charge for those that were belted, $13,937 and $9,004 respectively. If all unbelted passenger vehicle drivers had been wearing safety belts, inpatient charges would have been reduced by approximately $68 million and actual inpatient costs reduced by $47 million. In all cases of the study, the average inpatient charge was greater for drivers who were unbelted. (Source: NHTSA, "Report to Congress, Benefits of Safety Belts and Motorcycle Helmets," February 1996).
Over the past decade, much of the decline in highway fatalities and injuries has occurred because more motorists are wearing their safety belts, according to NHTSA. Every state but New Hampshire has a safety belt use law, although only twelve have primary, or standard, enforcement laws, which means that law enforcement officers may issue a citation when they observe an unbelted driver or passenger. In the other states, the laws permit only secondary enforcement, which means that, unlike every other traffic violation, an officer can cite a motorist for a safety belt use violation only if the officer has already stopped the vehicle for another infraction, such as speeding or running a red light.
Evidence in NHTSA studies proves that states with standard laws have significantly higher safety belt use rates and experience greater reductions in fatality and injury rates, compared with states that enact secondary laws. States with standard enforcement laws averaged 14 percentage points higher belt use than those with secondary laws. The NHTSA estimates that if every state had a standard enforcement law, nearly 7,000 lives would be saved every year. In fact, California and Louisiana increased their safety belt use rate by 13 and 18 percentage points, respectively, by upgrading their secondary laws to standard. (See attached chart titled "Potential Impact of Enacting Standard Enforcement Safety Belt Use Laws" which provides a state by state analysis of both lives saved and economic savings.)
it is distressing that the rate of safety belt use in the United States is the one of the lowest of industrialized nations. Use rates in Canada, Australia, and several Western European countries exceed 90 percent, while use rates in Great Britain exceed 80 percent. Safety belt use laws in these countries typically allow standard enforcement and also cover occupants of light trucks and vans, in addition to automobiles. Further, fines for noncompliance are generally higher than in the United States, and some jurisdictions assess points against driver's licenses for safety belt use law violations.
In fact, exemplary of the effectiveness of a comprehensive safety belt use plan is Canada's "comprehensive special traffic enforcement programs (STEPs)" Belt use rates in Canada and the United States did not differ markedly until the mid-1980s, when Canadian provinces began implementing STEPs, which are highly publicized enforcement efforts. When Canada decided to establish a national 95 percent safety belt use goal, provinces amended their laws to add driver license penalty points. With these penalty point provisions, belt use has risen to 92 percent for drivers and 90 percent for front seat passengers.
To achieve President Clinton's goal to increase national safety belt use to 85 percent by 2000 and 90 percent by 2005, Advocates believes Congress must enact the following three proposals. First, achieve passage of primary enforcement safety belt laws in every state by withholding or redirecting federal highway funds of states without primary laws. Experience shows us that states are much more apt to pass safety laws if funding sanctions are attached. There are two prominent examples of the success of this method. The first one is the National Minimum Drinking Age, or 21 year-old drinking age, which was a recommendation from President Reagan's National Commission Against Drunk Driving. It was strongly supported by both Republican and Democratic governors of states which had already enacted 21 drinking age laws, but shared "blood borders" with other states where the drinking age was lower. Young people would travel to those states to purchase and consume alcohol and then drive back, resulting in a high injury and death toll due to drunk driving.
In the summer of 1984, Senator Lautenberg and Representative Howard shepherded legislation through Congress requiring states to enact laws establishing 21 as the minimum drinking age or face the loss of a percentage of their federal-aid highway funds. Prior to the law's 1984 enactment, only sixteen states had established 21 as their legal drinking age. By FY 1988, when the sanctions took effect, all 50 states had adopted the law. Today, the law enjoys strong public acceptance, even among those under 21, and is credited with having saved over 10,000 lives. It is certain that without the federal leadership in pushing for uniform adoption of a 21 year old minimum drinking age, blood borders would be in existence today.
A recent example of the effectiveness of sanctions, the NHS legislation included a requirement that states enact zero tolerance BAC laws by FY 1998 or be penalized five percent of their federal-aid highway funds and ten percent each year thereafter. While 26 states had already enacted zero tolerance statutes prior to passage of the federal law, an additional eleven states enacted such laws last year, and legislation is pending in six other states this year. It is expected that once again all states will come into compliance before the sanctions take effect.
The second proposal Advocates endorses for inclusion in ISTEA II is the initiation of a $100 million national safety belt enforcement program, similar to the successful "Click It or Ticket" effort launched in North Carolina in 1993. Appeals to "do the right thing" do not work in getting those who do not wear their belts to buckle up, but rather, a standard enforcement law combined with a high visibility enforcement plan, including checkpoints and traffic tickets for drivers not using their belts, proved to be a winning formula in North Carolina. Nearly every law enforcement agency in the state participates in "Click It or Ticket," and the results are impressive.
In the program's first 27 months alone, fatal and serious highway injuries were cut by 15 percent and taxpayers were saved more than $100 million in health care related costs. Since the start of the program, law officers have held over 17,500 checkpoints and issued nearly 130,000 safety belt and over 11,000 child safety seat citations. Furthermore, at checkpoints and roving patrols, law enforcement officers have made more than 469,000 charges for violations other than safety belt, child safety seat or drunken driving offenses. Officers are apprehending car thieves, capturing drug violators, and arresting fugitives who may have driven away if not for this high visibility enforcement of traffic laws. Another related proposal is to provide funds to states for the enforcement of all traffic safety laws, including safety belts and impaired driving laws.
Without the necessary funding, the President's goals for use rates will not be achieved, and the rate of preventable deaths and injuries will continue to soar. Allocation of funds for enforcement of safety laws should be viewed as an investment, if not actually a savings, both in economical terms and in terms of human lives. Increasing the safety belt use rate from the current estimated daytime usage of 68 percent to the goal of the President's Initiative, 85 percent, could prevent an estimated 4,200 fatalities and 103,000 injuries annually. This reduction in injuries and deaths would result in an economic savings of approximately $6.7 billion annually.
C. Impaired Driving
Approximately 2 in every 5 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives. In 1995 alone, 17,274 people died because of alcohol-related crashes -- that means an average of one person was killed every 30 minutes. Forty-one percent (41 %) of the total traffic fatalities for the year were alcohol-related. Additionally, more than 300,000 persons were seriously injured in crashes where police reported that alcohol was present -- an average of one person injured approximately every 2 minutes. (Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 1995). These statistics are particularly abhorrent considering that there is no such thing as a "drunk driving accident." Almost all crashes involving alcohol could have been avoided if the impaired person behind the wheel was sober.
In an effort to critically examine this national public health crisis, Advocates, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Nationwide Insurance co-sponsored the third "Rating the States" report which surveys the nation's and each state's drunk driving policies and laws. The report is designed to focus attention on the problems of impaired driving and underage drinking, to identify what states are doing to address the problems, and to highlight progress made and challenges that remain. It is unfortunate to announce that our country received the grade of a `C.' One of the reasons for this low grade is that drunk driving fatalities increased in 1995 for the first time in a decade. This rise may be an indicator that our nation and the media have become complacent about the driving under the influence (DUI) problem. Additionally, improvements are needed in the testing rate of drivers involved in fatal or serious injury crashes. In 1995, only 68 percent of fatally injured drivers and 24 percent of surviving drivers were tested. Furthermore, no states enacted new .08 BAC laws in 1996.
There is some good news in the fight against teenage drinking and driving. Despite an overall increase in alcohol-related fatalities, youth (ages 15-20) alcohol-related fatalities declined by almost 6 percent. This decline occurs at a time when the population of teenage drivers is growing and most national surveys indicated an increase in teenage drinking. This welcome news may be a testament to the effectiveness of zero tolerance BAC laws for young drivers. As you are probably aware, in 1995, Congress passed the NHS bill which included a requirement that states enact a zero tolerance BAC law by FY 1998 or be penalized 5 percent of their federal-aid highway funds and 10 percent each year thereafter. That sanction has spurred state legislative activity. Since enactment of the provision, 11 states enacted zero tolerance laws, and it is under active consideration in 6 states.
Although our nation is moving in the direction of having zero tolerance BAC laws for all youth, most states have set the legal BAC limit for adults at .10 percent, making it the highest in the industrialized world. Sweden's national BAC limit is .02 percent; Australia (in the more populous states), Finland, France, the Netherlands, and Norway have .05 BAC limits; and Australia (in the remaining less populous states), Austria, Canada, Great Britain and Switzerland have set .08 BAC limits. According to a study by the Boston University School of Public Health conducted last year and published in the American Journal of Public Health, states adopting an illegal BAC limit of .08 percent experienced a 16 percent decline in the proportion of fatal crashes in which the driver's BAC was .08 percent or higher. The researchers concluded 500 to 600 fewer fatalities would occur annually if every state adopted .08 percent BAC limits. (Source: "Initial Assessment of the Effects of .08% Legal Blood Alcohol Limits on Blood Alcohol Level of Drivers in Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes," R. Hingson, Sc.D., T. Heeren, Ph.D., and M. Winter, M.P.H., Boston Univ.). Additionally, the American Medical Association (AMA) supports a .05 percent BAC and urges states to adopt this level. Advocates believes that legislation needs to be enacted which ensures the nation reaches the goal of reducing alcohol-related traffic deaths by 11 ,000 or fewer by the year 2005.
Therefore, Advocates urges Congress to include S. 4121 H.R. 981, "The Safe and Sober Streets Act of 1997" sponsored by Senator Lautenberg and Senator DeWine and Representative Lowey in ISTEA 11. This legislation would require every state to lower the illegal BAC limit to .08 percent for drivers over 21. Under the law, states that fail to enact the measure would have a percentage of their federal highway construction funds withheld. Adoption of this legislation in the reauthorization of ISTEA will move the nation toward a more sensible threshold to measure legal impairment and will save lives.
D. Truck Safety
Each year nearly 5,000 Americans die in truck crashes and 100,000 are injured. (Source: U.S. DOT Fatal Accident Reporting System). According to the IIHS (based on their numbers on the road and the amount they travel) large trucks (tractor-trailers, single-unit trucks, and some cargo vans weighing more than 10,000 pounds) account for a disproportionate share of highway deaths. Consequently, it is not surprising that 90 percent of the American public opposes bigger trucks. (Source: Louis Harris Poll). In fact, last week in the Wall Street Journal, an article titled "More Trucks Shake Residential America" described the public's anger and fear toward big trucks.
The public has good reason to fear big trucks. Truck traffic has jumped from 17. 1 billion miles in 1990 to 23.6 billion in 1995, on town and city roads. Truck mileage on interstates is expected to increase about 23 percent from 1990 through 1997, to 58 billion miles. In 1995, 98 percent of people killed in two-vehicle crashes involving a car and a large truck were occupants of the car. (Source: U.S. DOT Fatal Accident Reporting System). While large truck occupant deaths number approximately 600 annually, about 3,600 occupants of passenger vehicles die each year in collisions with large trucks. (Source: IIHS). One reason for this disparity is the vulnerability of people traveling in passenger vehicles when they are involved in crashes with large trucks. Trucks typically weigh 20-30 times as much as passenger cars.
Another problem with big trucks is their braking capability. Loaded tractor-trailers take 20-40 percent farther than cars to stop, and the discrepancy is worse when trailers are empty and speeds are higher because the braking distance disproportionately increases. Inspections of truck rigs in five states in 1990 revealed more than half with serious brake defects, according to the IIHS. Not only are trucks dangerous, but they also cause tremendous damage to our nation's roads attaching a hefty economic price tag. A single heavy truck, even one that meets the federal Interstate standard of 80,000 pounds, does as much damage as 9,600 cars. Furthermore, conventional trucks pay for only 65 percent of the costs to repair the damage they do to roads through fuel and user taxes, according to the U.S. DOT. Trucks substantially exceeding 80,000 pounds gross weight pay even less.
For these reasons, Advocates urges the Senate to include H.R. 551, Representative James Oberstar's bill which would establish a freeze on existing weight standards and truck lengths on the Interstate System and the NHS, in ISTEA II. The 1995 National Highway System Designation Act selected 160,000 miles of highways for construction, reconstruction or other forms of upgrading. The NHS will constitute a major new investment in our nation's highways, streets, and bridges, and this expenditure must be protected. Protection means assuring that trucks are held to their present weights and lengths, not only on the Interstate, but on the entire NHS, which includes country roads and city streets. Currently, federal standards limit trucks to 80,000 pounds on the Interstate system, although grandfather provisions permit some states to allow heavier trucks on their portions of the Interstate highways. Some states allow 57 foot trailers, and one allows trailers 60 feet long. The top limit in the others is 53 feet.
The Oberstar bill would preserve current state weight laws, including those which legitimately exceed the federal limit, and permit those rigs of more than 53 feet now on the road to continue to operate. Additionally, it would restore to the U.S. DOT authority to review state claims of grandfathered rights to run trucks heavier than federal limits. Lastly, it would require U.S. DOT to define what a "non-divisible load" really is, and prevent the continued use of unwarranted special permits as a subterfuge for routinely running heavy trucks on the NHS.
In fact, two state trucking associations, those of Mississippi and Arkansas, oppose any increase in truck size and weight limits. Dean Cotten, president of the Mississippi Trucking Association, said that, "our membership is convinced that the trucking industry does not gain productivity through size and weight increases, rather it is required to purchase new equipment." Cotten also stated, "[s]upporting measures to increase truck size and weights come from those who ignore history and have a blatant disregard for the cost incurred in obtaining it."
These two state trucking associations also fear the consequences of permitting states to determine size and weight limits. "If we throw size and weight back to the states, we'll end up with the same patchwork we had before the federal 80,000 pound limit was set," stated Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Motor Carriers Association. Congress needs to enact a truck size and weight freeze to protect American families who share the road with these big rigs and protect our investment in highways from accelerated road damage.
The case for a freeze is even more compelling because of negotiations concerning the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Last June, 58 Senators and 232 House Members wrote to then Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena urging that U.S. negotiators not compromise truck safety by agreeing to the use of longer and heavier trucks on U.S. roads and highways. A recent study by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) which evaluates truck inspections at the U.S. border points out the real danger of allowing bigger trucks into the United States. The GAO report found that fewer than one percent of the 3.3 million trucks entering the U.S. were inspected at the border. But of those that were inspected, nearly half were put out-of-service because of safety problems. Inspections of Mexican trucks are not as stringent as inspections of American trucks. If Mexican trucks underwent the same level of inspection the out-of-service rate would likely be even higher.
Border states are being asked to shoulder a significant safety burden that affects all of us. Congress should provide these states with the necessary assistance in terms of infrastructure improvements, more inspectors, and specific legislative guidance that will not permit the safety of the American public to be negotiated away.
A legislated freeze on truck size and weight, similar to the 1991 freeze on LCVs, would raise the level of safety for U.S. motor carriers as well as foreign motor carriers. -- The public is weary of the dangers of big trucks and strongly supports federal leadership in this area.
Advocates also urges that Congress not permit any thawing of the 1991 ISTEA freeze on longer combination vehicles (LCVs). In 1991, the Congress froze the expansion to additional states of large, multi-trailer LCVs to protect the American public from the dangers of bigger trucks. Today, use of LCVs is limited to at least 20 states and should not be expanded.
LCVs are "Twin 48s," also known as "Turnpike Doubles, " triple trailer trucks, also known as "triples," and Rocky Mountain Doubles. A twin 48 is two 48 foot trailers on the back of one tractor, and it weighs as much as fifty cars. A triple is analogous to a ten-story building on its side being hauled down the highway. Rocky Mountain Doubles have a longer semi-trailer with tandem axles and a short "pup " trailer with single axles. These types of trucks are inherently unstable because of their size and weight which cause the trailers to "sway," or move back and forth in serpentine fashion.
Additionally, the braking problems of single trailer trucks are amplified with LCVs due to their heavier weights, multiple trailers, longer lengths, and the greater likelihood of them mixing both loaded and empty trailers. Furthermore, "offtracking," which occurs when a trailer's rear wheels do not follow the path of the tractor's front wheels, happens more frequently with LCVs than with single trailer trucks. Offtracking can cause LCVs to swing into oncoming lanes of traffic during turns, to hit objects on the road side, to cross over curbs and gutters, and to overturn.
LCVs are also incompatible with cars in traffic. Motorists who pass or are passed by LCVs in wet weather will be blinded by splash and spray on their windshields for longer periods than those passing or passed by single trailer trucks. LCVs also move more slowly on grades and accelerate more slowly than other trucks. Additionally, they require more room when maneuvering on crowded freeways and roads. Furthermore, lane changes and freeway merging by LCVs disrupt traffic and are unsafe. Passing LCVs takes more time and distance - up to 20 percent more - increasing safety risks particularly on two-lane, undivided highways. Lastly, since LCVs have more trailers and are less stable than single trailer trucks, there is a greater risk when a LCV is involved in a crash that the multiple units will be thrown into adjacent or oncoming lanes of traffic, leading to more severe crashes.
E. Truck Driver Fatigue
Truck driver fatigue is a factor in 40% of all truck crashes according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Compound this problem with industry efforts to increase truck driver driving times (hours of service) and you have a written invitation for more devastating crashes on the nation's roadways. Currently, truck drivers can drive 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. In comparison, air line pilots are permitted to fly only 30 hours in seven days under normal conditions. Considering that the equivalent of a plane crash occurs on our nation's highways every day, increasing the number of hours truckers drive on the roadways would be a grievous mistake.
Researchers at IIHS estimate that presently more than half of the tractor-trailer drivers violate federal hours of service regulations on a 1,200 mile route. Increasing the federal limits will only serve to legalize these drivers' actions, and, further, it will not stop drivers from continuing to exceed the new, higher limits. In 1995, 1,926 people were victims of crashes due to truck driver fatigue. (Source: IIHS). Our nation cannot continue to ignore basic human needs for rest and recovery. Any new regulations that alter hours of service standards should be done in a way that enhances the health and safety of commercial drivers and the American public and reduces the potential for and prevalence of commercial vehicle crashes. Consequently, Advocates urges Congress to reject any efforts to expand hours of service for truck drivers and instead direct the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to conduct a rulemaking that reduces commercial driver fatigue and sleep deprivation and improves driver health and safety.
F. Transportation Research and Technology
Safer air bags are now being designed for the near future. However, attaining air bags that perform safely and effectively for all persons in all frontal crashes is an important public safety goal. This goal can be achieved by developing advanced or "smart" air bag technology that shapes the force of the air bag deployment based on the occupant's size and position at the time of the crash as well as the severity of the crash. To provide technology that enables air bags to protect all occupants in frontal crashes, a new generation of sensing devices (sensors) must be developed. Sensor technology, for crash sensors and occupant position sensors, is the weak link in developing advanced air bag design and performance.
To solve this problem, Advocates has proposed that a portion of the funding authorized for the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) program be used to improve the protection provided by air bags and safety belts to all occupants, especially children and short adults. A program that provided $25 million annually for research and development of crash and vehicle sensors would hasten the accomplishment of advanced air bag technology. Directing ITS resources for this purpose is a logical step since the development of advanced technology for application to highway vehicles to improve safety is a major premise of ITS. In fact, the ITS Program Plan, the master plan for ITS projects, includes a proposal for Pre-Crash Restraint Deployment. This effort was intended to develop advanced sensor and radar technology to improve the response of vehicle safety systems in the event of a crash. The ITS Program Plan recognized that sensor development and safety devices are integrally related to crash survival. Advocates' proposal adds a new dimension to this ITS concept. Unfortunately, the ITS program has not funded or developed the Pre-Crash Restraint Deployment aspect of the ITS Program Plan.
This important area of safety research and development has gone unfunded even though the ITS program has received approximately $1.3 billion from the federal government. The administration is now seeking an additional $600 million for research and development over the next six years. In addition, the administration is proposing that ITS projects be eligible for federal Highway Trust Funds as any other construction project. Despite the vast expenditures of federal funds, ITS has not produced appreciable improvements in highway safety. Although many claims have been made about the potential for ITS to make vehicles and highways safer, there are few tangible safety results. The ITS safety concepts for passenger vehicles are mostly still in development and will not be available, if at all, for many years to come. Since the ITS program has not initiated safety research and development on vehicle sensors as planned, we urge Congress to promote occupant safety, and to protect children and short adults, by targeting funding for accelerated vehicle sensor research and development.
In conclusion, I urge this committee to draw a line in the pavement against increasing deaths and injuries on our highways or accepting the status quo as "good enough." This Congress would never tolerate an airplane crash every single day killing 115 Americans and injuring thousands more as the price of having cheap air fares and unlimited access. Neither should this Congress allow a surface transportation bill to be enacted that does not set specific goals for reducing motor vehicle deaths and injuries and adopts the programs and policies that will achieve them.
Small increases in funding for traffic safety programs and the safety belt incentive program proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation are only first steps to combating drunk driving, improving truck safety, increasing safety belt usage, and providing adequate resources for traffic enforcement. Much more needs to be done as our safety agenda shows. It will make important and significant gains in bringing down deaths and injuries on our highways. I challenge each of the Members of this Committee to devote as much time advocating safety proposals to improve the safety status of your constituents as you spend debating and generating funding options to improve the financial status of your states.
Advocates and all of the members of the SAFETEA Coalition offer this Committee our assistance in developing legislation that will truly make our highway journey into the 21st a safer road to travel.