406 Dirksen EPW Hearing Room

Frank R. Lautenberg


Welcome to today’s hearing on highway safety.

In 2001, when President Bush took office, more than 40,000 Americans died on our roads.

But eight years later, more than 40,000 Americans are still dying on America’s roads every year.

Highway crashes continue to be a leading cause of death in our country.

Those are not just numbers. They are people.

They are parents stolen from their families by traffic crashes. They are children whose futures are stolen from them.

The fact that we have failed to reduce crashes and deaths on our highways is a failure of leadership.

There have been opportunities for the Bush Administration to strengthen the frames of cars and trucks to protect those inside during an accident, and to limit the number of hours that truck drivers can be behind the wheel to reduce fatigue.

But these opportunities to improve safety have not been acted on.

Some of America's most successful actions to improve highway safety have come when the federal government leads the way for states to act.

That’s what we did by enacting a law to encourage states to set the minimum drinking age at 21.

Today is the anniversary of this law, and a thousand lives each year have been saved because of it.

That’s also what the federal government did when it passed a law to set maximum Blood Alcohol Content levels at .08 percent.
I was proud to author those laws. And just last month, the President signed legislation to require ignition interlocks on the cars or trucks of repeat drunk drivers.

These devices will not let a vehicle start if the driver’s blood alcohol content is too high.

These actions focus on the driver because fatal crashes are all too often caused by driver error.

But we also need to make sure our cars and trucks are as safe as they can be, and our roads and bridges are structurally sound and inspected regularly.

As we saw last year in Minnesota with the Minneapolis bridge collapse, there’s no question we need to repair our infrastructure.

More than 25 percent of our nation’s bridges are deficient. And state bridge safety inspection programs must be adequate to find problems and fix them.

Second, to make a real difference in reducing highway deaths, we have to increase seat belt usage.

Only 26 states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws. These laws work.

We also need to decrease the number of distracted driving incidents and encourage more motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

And finally, the safety of large trucks and buses cannot continue to be ignored by federal and state safety regulators.

Each year, 5,000 people die in large truck crashes. That is unacceptable.

This Committee will take the lead in passing the next highway bill. I look forward to helping craft that important bill—and will do my part to make up for eight years of missed opportunities.

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