U.S. senate holds oversight hearing on NHTSA

Jan. 1, 2020
The Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held an oversight hearing on Highway Bill Safety provisions. The focus of the hearing was on federal and state saf
The Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held an oversight hearing on Highway Bill Safety provisions. The focus of the hearing was on federal and state safety programs authorized by Congress in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) and administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., committee chairman, shed light on the current programs and grants funded through SAFETEA-LU. "As we prepare for the next reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU, we need to carefully consider whether they are being used as effectively as possible, and whether or not there are new programs that need to be funded or new safety concerns that need to be addressed," he said.

NHTSA places much emphasis on driver behavior. Every year, NHTSA distributes more than $500 million in grants to states as an incentive to pass strict safety laws and to pay for enforcement, education and other efforts to promote safety. Congress has directed the use of these funds to push states to enact primary enforcement laws on seat belt use, promote the use of child safety and booster seats, and create harsh sentences for repeat drunk driving offenders. This safety spending appears to have produced positive results, according to NHTSA. According to the latest data, Rockefeller said during his opening statements, the vast majority of drivers now use their seat belts, drunk driving offenses have declined and our roads are getting safer.

"We can be proud of what has been accomplished but also recognize that so much more needs to be done," said Ray LaHood, U.S. secretary of transportation, during his testimony.

"Clearly, even with the lowest absolute fatality numbers since 1950 and the lowest fatality rate number in our nation's history, more than 33,000 fatalities a year on our highways is not a number that we can accept. We need to renew our commitment to finding new and better ways to reach those difficult-to-reach populations to change their behavior, to make vehicles safer, to develop new technologies to improve our safety margin, so that we can continue to make steady progress in reducing this preventable epidemic of roadway crashes."

 

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"Traffic crashes not only cause devastation to families and individuals, but they also cost the nation an estimated $230 billion annually," said Neil Pederson, administrator, Maryland State Highway Administration, in his testimony on behalf of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

The following chart, submitted with Rockefeller's testimony, describes SAFETEA-LU performance indicators:

SAFETEA-LU Safety Performance Indicators
2004 Current Change Total Fatalities

MC Fatalities

Fatality Rate

Alcohol Impaired Fatalities

Belt Use Rate

Child Restraint Use<8

Universal Helmet Laws

PBL

42,836

4,028

1.44

13,099

80%

82%

20+DC

21+DC

33,808

4,462

1.13

10,839

85%

87%

20+DC

31+DC

-21%

+11%

-22%

-17%

+6%

+6%

N/A

+48%

"Advancing real world motor vehicle safety remains a public health challenge, and automakers are doing our part," said Robert Strassburger, vice president of vehicle safety and harmonization, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in his testimony. "Even during the recent economic downturn, the auto industry spent more than $86 billion globally in R&D in 2008.

"Most of the safety features on motor vehicles in the United States – antilock brakes, stability control, side airbags for head and chest protection, side curtains, precrash occupant positioning, lane departure warning, collision avoidance and more, were developed and implemented voluntarily by manufacturers, in advance of any regulatory mandates," said Strassburger. "The industry is moving forward, engaging in high-tech research and implementation of new safety technologies including autonomous braking systems, vehicle safety communications systems for crash avoidance, and much more. Our commitment is to continuously improve motor vehicle safety."

To view Rockefeller's opening statement, as well as full text of the witness panel's testimonies, visit ASA's legislative website at www.TakingTheHill.

For additional information about ASA, including past news releases, go to www.ASAshop.org.

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