TRANSPORTATION EQUITY ACT: A LEGACY FOR USERS -- (House of Representatives - April 01, 2004)
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Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of this very important legislation, which will improve our transportation infrastructure and create millions of jobs, and I want to thank the gentleman from Wisconsin, (Mr. Petri) for yielding me this time.
I especially want to commend the chairman, the gentleman from Alaska (Mr. Young); chairman of the subcommittee, the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Petri); and the ranking members, the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Oberstar) and the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Lipinski), all very close friends of mine, who are to be commended for their great leadership on this bill.
Mr. Chairman, this is the biggest jobs bill that we will vote on in this Congress. I am sick and tired of seeing millions of American jobs go to other countries. All over this Nation there is tremendous concern about this. We are spending hundreds of billions in other countries. This bill is one that puts our own people first once again.
But it is more than just a jobs bill, Mr. Chairman. This is a safety bill. I chaired the Subcommittee on Aviation for 6 years. Unfortunately, there are more people killed on our Nation's highways in just a little over 4 months than in all U.S. aviation accidents combined since the Wright Brothers flight of 1903. This bill is one that will make our Nation's highways much safer and will save many thousands of lives.
We need to take terrorism very seriously, Mr. Chairman; but we are spending hundreds of billions on terrorism, when we count up all the military and Federal, State and local spending, and what all the private companies are doing on security. Yet, as the very respected National Journal magazine pointed out a few months ago, people are thousands of times more likely to be killed in a car wreck than by a terrorist. Surely we can spend $45 billion a year on our Nation's highways and our National Transportation System.
This is an efficiency bill. One leading national magazine said recently, "Congestion costs the Nation about $67 billion a year. Americans waste 3.6 billion hours and 5.7 billion gallons of gas sitting in traffic, all at an average cost of $1,160 per commuter per year."
This bill will save huge amounts of tax dollars by speeding up the time in which projects can be completed. Everything in our economy, Mr. Chairman, everything in our personal lives depends on, or is affected by, a good transportation system.
I am especially pleased that in this bill there is language promoting technology to decrease or cut down or eliminate the time that trucks have to idle at truck stops. I also want to work on the language, though, that is in the bill concerning parking areas for trucks along our Nation's interstate highway system so that those parking areas do not compete against companies in the private sector.
No one on our committee, Mr. Chairman, wants to pave over the entire country, but vehicle miles traveled keeps going up at three to five times the rate of our population growth. This means we have to improve and widen our highways.
Paul Craig Roberts, the nationally syndicated conservative columnist wrote recently: "Before we can reconstruct the rest of the world, we need to stop deconstructing our own country." I have nothing against any other Nation, but this is one bill that is pro-American. It is not only pro-American, it is pro-jobs, pro-environment, pro-safety; and I urge its passage because this is one of the best things we will be able to do this year in this Congress.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Chairman, vicarious liability laws in 3 states (NY, ME, CT and DC) impose unlimited liability on car and truck renting and leasing companies for injury and property damage solely because they own the vehicles. Eight other states have some limited form of vicarious liability. Vicarious liability is "liability without fault" in that these companies have no involvement in or ability to prevent the accident. They cost consumers an average of $100 million annually. Companies nationwide are affected, not just in the few vicarious states, because the laws apply based on where the accident occurs, not where the car or truck is owned or registered. As a result, a car registered and rented in a non-vicarious state that gets into an accident in a vicarious state is subject to that state's vicarious laws. Companies have no way to protect themselves against these laws.
I propose adding to H.R. 3550 (TEA LU) a provision to eliminate vicarious liability nationwide. Under this provision, only a company that is at fault or negligent in an accident could be held liable for damages. T&I Chairman YOUNG, Highways Subcommittee Chairman PETRI, and Highways Subcommittee Ranking Member LIPINSKI all support this provision; Ranking Member OBERSTAR is non-committal at this point.
The amendment eliminates liability under state law for an owner of a motor vehicle who is engaged in the business of renting and leasing motor vehicles provided there is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the motor vehicle owner; the owner must maintain the required state limits of financial responsibility for each vehicle in accordance to the state where the vehicle is registered; elimination of vicarious liability commences on the date of enactment; and defines "motor vehicle" and "owner."