TRANSPORTATION EQUITY ACT: A LEGACY FOR USERS -- (Senate - May 12, 2005)
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Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I, too, rise and join my colleague from Mississippi in his very eloquent remarks, and my colleague from Ohio.
I know the Senator from Illinois is waiting to speak in a few moments.
I rise in opposition to the Allen amendment. I understand the intentions, but I think the statistics and the numbers and the reality make it clear that the American people are better off under the provisions as they currently exist in the bill. More States benefit from the Senate Commerce primary belt law provision. There are 19 States currently that have primary seatbelt laws on their books and they will qualify for funding immediately. Only 14 States have an 85-percent seatbelt use rate, according to the 2004 numbers. That is what you need to qualify under the terms of this amendment. So more people would benefit and be rewarded for having the primary seatbelt law.
I think the provisions of the Commerce Committee's bill guarantee funding if the State does one thing, and that is either have or pass a primary belt law. Under the amendment we are talking about right now, a State has no certainty that any action it takes will increase belt use that will result in 85-percent or higher rate use.
This amendment would, if enacted, abandon a very important goal, and that is, for several years the Department of Transportation has set a goal of 90-percent seatbelt usage. The amendment in question would set a goal basically at 85 percent. I have a concern. Knowing human nature and the way things work sometimes, I think folks
might give up at 85 percent and never try to reach that 90 percent. So I think the DOT policy is a good one. I think it is designed to save lives. It is a commonsense approach. As Senator Lott said a few moments ago, States that have a primary seatbelt law on average show the increase in seatbelt usage by 11 percentage points. He tried to drive that home a few moments ago. I think that is a very powerful statistic.
Primary seatbelt laws are also the fastest and the cheapest way to save lives. The NHTSA administrator, Jeff Runge, M.D., said of the provisions in the current bill that they would save more lives, do it faster and cheaper than any other highway safety proposal Congress is likely to consider this decade.
So the experts agree, the numbers agree, and last, let me say, the safety groups agree. These are the people out there every single day fighting for better laws and more safe vehicles, safer roads, et cetera. They agree. The proposal in the current bill, not in the amendment but in the bill, is supported by the National Safe Kids Campaign, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Automotive Coalition for Insurance Association, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Mazda, the Automotive Occupants Restraint Council, the Traffic Safety, the National Safety Council, the American Insurance Association. It incentivizes States to pass these primary seatbelt laws. The experts agree the way to save lives on America's highways is to try to pass these seatbelt laws.
I, like Senator Lott, do not have a primary seatbelt law in my State. Typically I think States should have the rights to make these decisions, and certainly every State does. But what we do is give a bonus, an extra incentive for States to consider, State legislators, Governors, et cetera, to consider passing these type of laws because it will benefit their citizens and benefits the Nation.
I urge my colleagues to vote against this amendment when it comes up.
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