While I support the overall intent of ISTEA, ISTEA has also allowed the Rhode Island State Police to achieve goals that it would not have been able to otherwise accomplish.
If we look back during the early 1980s, commercial vehicles emerged as a safety issue due to the increasing number of unsafe commercial vehicles on our highways along with the increasing number and severity of crashes involving commercial vehicles. Furthermore, the occurrence of accidents with carriers of hazardous waste was also on the increase. As a part of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, Congress enacted the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP), commonly referred to as "MIKSAP," in 1983 to address these problems. The Program was designed to foster safer commercial vehicle travel, while increasing the level and effectiveness of enforcement activity to detect and correct safety defects, driver deficiencies and unsafe carrier practices. In 1991, ISTEA s Title IV, entitled "Motor Carrier Act of 1991," was established and assumed the MCSAP responsibilities.
Over the course of the past 10 years, the activity of the Rhode Island State Police Commercial Enforcement Unit, which is responsible for enforcing the MCSAP regulations, has increased astoundingly. Though the Unit has only been comprised of eight (8) to ten (10) members, each year they conduct approximately 5,000 safety inspections of trucks and buses. These inspections reveal approximately 16,000 violations each and every year. Some of these violations are so severe that over 1,000 vehicles and drivers a year are placed "Out of Service" right then and there until the deficiencies can be corrected. In addition, members of the Commercial Enforcement Unit have assisted in the training of commercial fleet operators regarding driver training, fleet inspections, and federal/state documentation programs. The Unit is also heavily relied upon by local police departments for their expertise and knowledge pertaining to commercial motor vehicle regulations.
Though I cannot estimate how many lives were saved, how many injuries were prevented or even put a price on the increased safety of our roadways as a result of the Rhode Island State Police CEU s enforcement efforts, I can say this. Without this Unit, 5,000 commercial vehicle safety inspections would not have been completed each year, 16,000 commercial vehicle safety violations would not have been detected each year and over 1,000 extremely unsafe drivers and/or commercial vehicles would not have been prevented from driving on Rhode Island highways each year. Of all the Units comprising the Rhode Island State Police, the Commercial Enforcement Unit is the one that consistently and most often evokes positive comments from our citizens.
The Rhode Island State Police quandary revolves around the reduction in basic funding and the elimination of secondary funding for MCSAP activities. ISTEA appropriations are based on a population and highway mileage formula in which the State Police receives the minimum basic grant. In past years, we have also received a secondary grant strictly to help pay salaries and benefits. Each year, the secondary grant has been reduced by ten (10) percent while personnel and benefit costs have continued to rise. (Rhode Island is one (1) of seven (7) states that receive secondary funding since these states have smaller populations and limited highway mileage.) Since the Rhode Island State Police Commercial Enforcement Unit is funded entirely external from the State Police general revenues and that we have no additional financial resources to supplement the eliminated secondary grant, we depend on these funds to survive.
The MCSAP grant program is a 80/20 grant program requiring a 20% match in State funds. Due to the State s fiscal woes, we must rely on the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (PUC) as the principle source of the State match. In addition to the federal grant dollars and PUC match money, the PUC also provides the Commercial Enforcement Unit with an extra $250,000 dollars to meet the other necessary operating expenses. In all actuality, the 80/20 split has actually come very close to a 50/50 split.
The Rhode Island State Police has been notified that in Fiscal Year 1998, we will only receive our basic minimum grant since the secondary grant is being discontinued. At this level, the Rhode Island State Police CEU budget would be approximately $75,000 less than the Fiscal Year 1997 budget. This would require the elimination of several positions from our CEU.
You may be asking, "What does this have to do with the reauthorization of ISTEA?" Well, plain and simple, if our Commercial Enforcement Unit funding is reduced, so will our enforcement efforts towards the safety of the commercial trucking industry. Unsafe vehicles, carrying too much weight and being operated by inexperienced, untrained and many times sleep-deprived drivers will increase without a strong law enforcement deterrent. Furthermore, one must contemplate the effect that the North American Free Trade Agreement and the opening of our borders will have on our commercial trucking industry. Foreign commercial vehicles, who may not face the same stringent inspection standards as the United States commercial vehicle industry, will be traveling our highways. As Rhode Island lies on the major corridor of the East coast, along with being one of the oldest segments of the National Highway System, one can strongly surmise that negative ramifications will be felt here in Rhode Island.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration s 1995 Traffic Safety Facts, the nation has made great strides in reducing the overall involvement of large trucks in motor vehicle crashes along with reducing the fatality rate of large truck occupants involved in motor vehicle crashes. If the number of unsafe commercial vehicles operating increases, we can only have a determined set of results: more deaths, more injuries and more motor vehicle crashes involving commercial vehicles. We should not stop the progress we have made since much more can be done.
My solution would be to increase the overall grant allocation to states from the proposed $100 million to $105 million. This would allow each of the smaller states to receive a minimum grant of $500,000. Since we are not asking for money to be reappropriated from the larger states to the smaller states, we feel this is the most equitable solution. Therefore, Rhode Island, which by no fault of its own has a smaller population and less highway miles, would be eligible for the minimum $500,000 grant.
Title II of ISTEA also provides an integral funding component to promote traffic safety programs through the State and Community Highway Safety Grant Program, commonly referred to as Section 402 funds. These funds support law enforcement s effort to reduce the death and destruction that have become much too commonplace on our highways. These grants allow law enforcement agencies flexibility in supplementing their regular traffic safety enforcement duties. The funding allows for additional enforcement personnel, audio visual materials and educational resources to spread the traffic safety message concerning certain issues: speed limits, occupant protection, impaired driving, motorcycle safety, and school bus safety to name a few. With traffic crashes claiming over 40,000 lives each year and costing the Nation roughly $137 billion dollars in medical costs, insurance premiums, unemployment / disability taxes, Social Security costs and lost wages, we as a responsible and caring Nation must do all we can to continue preventive education and law enforcement funding toward traffic safety programs.
Title II also stipulates funds for the development and promotion of the Drug Recognition Expert Training Program. This Program trains law enforcement officers to recognize and identify individuals operating motor vehicles while impaired by alcohol and/or other controlled substances. Prior to the establishment of this Program, law enforcement officers had little recourse should they discover someone operating a motor vehicle while impaired with a blood alcohol content of zero. With this Program, trained law enforcement officers can test an individual using non-intrusive techniques. Because of the highly specialized training, the law enforcement officer s testimony can be accepted in a court of law just as a breathalyzer result would have been. Though I would like to train many of the Troopers, money and time constraints have only allowed for two (2) Troopers to become certified as Drug Recognition Experts. With today s society where illegal controlled substances are readily available, this Program will be extremely important to both diagnose and prosecute careless individuals operating motor vehicles while under the influence of intoxicating liquor and/or controlled substances.
In conclusion, fully funded reauthorization of Title IV, entitled "Motor Carrier Act of 1991" and Title II, entitled " Highway Safety" of ISTEA is necessary to carryout the original vision for surface transportation in America. These two Titles not only promote economic vitality, but they also safeguard the lives of Americans we have sworn to serve. Since transportation will only increase in the forthcoming years, any reduction in our enforcement efforts can only lead to more traffic crashes, more tragedy and increased medical, insurance and tax costs. It is imperative that we as a Nation continue to foster reliable, but safe, surface transportation programs as we travel into the next millennium.
Thank you for inviting me to testify today and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.