ISTEA Reauthorization
May 7, 1997

Thank you very much. Yesterday, we announced the formation of a safety coalition representing over 60 national, State and local organizations in support of a strong safety goal in the ISTEA legislation. We would like to have this bill be looked upon as a safety bill, not just a funding bill.

The Harris Poll last September showed that 91 percent of the respondents believed that Federal involvement in safety highways is incredibly important, with 78 percent saying such a role is very important.

Since ISTEA I was passed, it's hard to believe but 250,000 Americans have died on our highways. That's not a very long time ago. Also, 18 million have been injured. The number killed is the population of Boulder, Colorado; the number injured is the population of the State of New York. It's a huge number of Americans who are affected every year by this.

The six-year cost of these crashes is $900 billion. That's enough to fund the full four-year costs, including tuition, room and board for twice the number of students currently attending a four-year university.

Our proposals are as follows. One, increase the funding for safety. Mr. Crabtree just mentioned that there's been a substantial reduction since 1980 in the funds. It's a huge reduction. Today, it would be instead of $127 million, it would be almost $400 million. We're asking for $600 million for safety. We think this should be provided by a one-half cent Federal gas tax on every gallon of gasoline.

Why? Motor vehicle crashes represent 94 percent of all transportation fatalities, 99 percent of all transportation injuries, and they get 1 percent of the DOT budget. It's grossly underfunded.

The initiatives that we propose are as follows: $150 million for the National Safety Belt Enforcement Program, modeled after the North Carolina Click It or Ticket Program which has been incredibly successful, an initiative that came from Federal and private funding and has shown that it works; secondly, $150 million for States in enforcement of all traffic safety laws which would also address the issue you raised several times, Mr. Chairman, of aggressive driving.

We think the higher speed limits, the advertising on television about what's good about a car, all have increased this aggressive driving and enforcement is really the only answer. There has to be improved enforcement and that is not now available.

There should be $200 million for what's called the 402 Grant Program, this is grants to States. That would be an increase of $33 million above what the Administration has requested; and finally, $100 million for impaired driving programs. You've heard today about this issue and that would be a $60 million increase over the Administration's request.

The following proposals we make have no budget impact whatsoever per se, although we believe these funds could be used to help these programs. The first is primary safety felt use laws in every State. We support the Administration's proposal for increasing safety belt use from 85 to 90 percent.

Research shows that the proper use of belts greatly reduces the risk of injury by 45 to 60 percent between cars and trucks. It's important to note, Mr. Chairman, that two-thirds of all fatalities now on the highway of occupants are unbelted.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, increasing belt usage would prevent some 4,000 fatalities and 102,000 injuries. That would be an economic savings of $6.2 billion.

Secondly, we support a .08 BAC in every State. You've heard testimony this morning about this. We believe sanctions work well in encouraging State action -- in fact, they are essential. We would never have the minimum 21 year old drinking age in this country without passage of that law in 1984. Some 10,000 teenagers' lives have been saved in the last decade because of the at law.

In 1995, Congress adopted as part of the NHS bill a sanction to begin in 1998 for States without a zero BAC for youth. As you know, with age 21 for drinking, nevertheless, young people are still drinking and if they are arrested, they're measured against the age 21 law, but there should also be a zero tolerance.

This provision has energized State action. At the time of enactment, 26 States had zero tolerance laws. In one year, 11 States have adopted this law and legislation is going on in six additional States.

I will point out, Mr. Chairman, that the State of Virginia has been very progressive on these issues. It has a .08 law as well as a primary belt law.

Third, we recommend a freeze on truck size and weight and no thaw in the freeze on longer combination vehicles. Big trucks are dangerous, the public is scared to death of them, 88 percent don't want bigger trucks, 83 percent oppose increasing driving hours on the road. Nearly all deaths resulting from crashes between cars and trucks are occupants of cars.

Our coalition, some 60-plus strong organizations, supports a freeze on truck sizes and weights on the NHS similar to legislation introduced by Representative Jim Oberstar which is H.R. 551. This committee has jurisdiction over truck weights, not truck length. His bill deals with both.

We urge you to protect the American public and the billions of dollars invested in the highway infrastructure by drawing a line in the pavement and saying no more heavier trucks. Two State trucking associations, Mississippi and Arkansas, have already spoken out in opposition to any increase in truck size and weights.

The case for the freeze is even more compelling because of negotiations concerning NAFTA. Last June, 58 Senators and 232 House members wrote to Secretary Pena urging U.S. negotiators not to compromise truck safety by agreeing to use of longer and heavier trucks.

Border States are being asked to shoulder a significant safety burden for all of us in this area. Congress should provide these States with necessary assistance in terms of infrastructure improvement, more inspectors and specific legislative guidance that will not permit the safety of the American public to be negotiated away.

I would point out there is an increasing concern about this. In the State of Texas, there is no permanent facility for inspection of trucks. The area is very urbanized where many of these trucks come across. There is very little room and space to do inspections.

Last night on Night Line, for example, Ted Koppel had a very interesting program in which he showed all the deficiencies of many of these trucks coming across.

A study has been done by the General Accounting Office which also makes this very clear. It recently came out and I submitted the summary of it for the record. We urge you not to permit any thaw in the freeze on longer combination vehicles.

Double and triple trailer trucks are incompatible and dangerous to motorists because of off-tracking, problems with passing these trucks, with braking, with their ability to maneuver on the highway, and many of them are so long that they don't fit the design of the highway on and off ramps themselves. This has been clear for many years.

There is a greater risk that LCVs will lead to more severe crashes and we feel very strongly this freeze should not be removed.

Finally, we don't see the need for any increase in hours of service for truck drivers. In fact, we think they should be shorter. As you know, they are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act since 1937. Truck drivers can currently drive 60 hours in a 7-day period or 70 hours in an 8-day period. No one else in America is required to work those hours. In fact, pilots have about one-half to one-third the hours that are required of truck drivers and they have a co-pilot and an automatic pilot.

If you're a truck driver, I challenge any member of this committee to try and meet the standards those truck drivers have to meet every day. If you take your eyes off the road for a second with those big trucks, you're going to have difficulty on the highway. The National Transportation Safety Transportation Board has also done work on driver fatigue and found that it's involved in 40 percent of truck crashes.

One other area which I'd like to mention briefly is the ITS money. We think this is a very substantial fund that has not been adequately used for safety. We would recommend programming $25 million annually for research and development on crash and vehicle sensors to help the development of advanced airbag technology.

Although ITS has already received $1.3 billion from the Federal Government, it has produced no appreciable improvements in highway safety to date.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would say the committee needs to go beyond the Administration proposal in order to make some gains on highway safety and to make this bill not just a big money bill, but a bill for highway safety. I challenge each member of the committee to devote as much time to advocating safety, to improve the status of your constituents on the highways as you do debating the money that's in this bill and generating funds for the financial issues involved in this bill.

I appreciate very much the chance to speak.