GHSA Chair Advocates New Speed Management Incentive Program

Testifying last week before the House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Governors Highway Safety Association Chair Chris Murphy recommended changes to federal behavioral highway safety programs to be considered in the coming highway reauthorization. During the hearing, Improving Highway Safety: Assessing the Effectiveness of the NHTSA's Highway Traffic Safety Programs, Murphy shared the dais with Katherine Siggerud, managing director, Physical Infrastructure, GAO; and Jim Ports, deputy administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Murphy advocated streamlining highway safety program administration, making refinements in current incentive programs and authorizing a new speed management incentive program. He also encouraged Congress to maintain strong federal leadership in the issue of highway safety. Specific recommendations included:

  • A comprehensive, national strategic highway safety plan involving all levels of government and the private sector. Federal programs have been developed in a piecemeal fashion, without an overall plan. GHSA echoes recent recommendations of the National Surface Transportation and Revenue Policy Study Commission in proposing a national highway safety strategic plan and goals.
  • A goal of zero fatalities. The loss of one life is too many. In time, with education, enforcement, infrastructure and vehicle improvements, and technological advances, that ambitious goal can be achieved.
  • A single grant application and uniform application deadline. There are different application forms and deadlines for each incentive program. Funding is allocated at different times. This fragmented approach makes it difficult for states to plan annual programs effectively.
  • Greater flexibility among programs. States should be allowed to move portions of incentive grant funding from one category to another based on their needs, in parity with flexibility already granted to federal highway construction programs.
  • Increase funding of $100 million a year for Section 408 data improvements program. GAO, the U.S. DOT Inspector General, and the National Surface Transportation and Revenue Policy Study Commission have all recommended that federal behavioral highway safety programs become more performance-based. If Congress concurs, it must provide resources to states to collect data necessary to track performance.
  • A speed management incentive grant. Speeding is a factor in about one-third of all crashes, and costs society about $40 billion annually. Reducing speed not only saves lives, but also saves energy. A new speed management program should provide incentives for states to undertake speed enforcement, conduct speed management workshops, implement automated speed enforcement programs, or conduct public information campaigns about speeding.
  • A drunk driving program based on effective countermeasures. Some criteria for the Section 410 drunk driving incentive grant program have been ineffective or too difficult to implement, so many states soon fall out of compliance. GHSA suggests that the program be refocused on effective countermeasures like high visibility enforcement, DUI courts, and judicial education.
  • A single occupant protection program. GHSA recommends that the modestly successful Section 406 primary seat belt incentive grant program be combined with the existing occupant protection and child passenger protection programs to form a single program. Funds should be allocated based on several criteria such as seat belt use rates, fatality rates of unbelted drivers, and primary seat belt and booster seat law enactment.
  • Maintaining National Minimum Drinking Age (NMDA). While GHSA does not generally support new sanctions, it vigorously opposes efforts to overturn the existing sanction, which stipulates any state not enforcing the minimum drinking age of 21 be subject to a 10-percent decrease in its annual federal highway apportionment. Protecting the health of young people should be of paramount importance. According to NHTSA, nearly 25,000 teen traffic deaths have been prevented since enactment of the NMDA.

The complete GHSA testimony is available online at www.ghsa.org/html/issue/pdf/2008.07.16.testimony.pdf.

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