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Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. DeWINE. Mr. President, the SAFETEA bill in the Senate today is a good bill. I strongly support its passage.

I thank Senator Inhofe, Senator Jeffords, Senator Bond, and Senator Baucus for their good leadership and their good work, particularly on the Environment and Public Works title of this bill. The roadway safety and funding provisions they have crafted are vitally important.

Let me also thank Senators STEVENS, LOTT, INOUYE, and MCCAIN for their hard work on the Commerce Committee vehicle and behavioral safety title.

Finally, let me thank Senator Rockefeller for his support as the lead cosponsor of the safety provisions I have authored that are part of this bill.

Staff on both the Commerce Committee and the EPW Committee also deserve praise and thanks for their hard work on this bill. In particular, I thank Ruth Van Mark, Chris Bertram, David Strickland, and James O'Keeffe and JC Sandberg for their willingness to work with my office on portions of the bill I wanted included. These are portions of the bill I will describe in a minute that have to do with highway safety, provisions that I believe truly will save lives. I thank them for their very good and diligent work.

I also thank Kevin King of my staff for his hard work on these safety provisions in the bill.

While certainly we would like to include more funding for highway and transit projects, I commend my colleagues for doing an excellent job in stretching the funding that is available as far as it can go.

The language Senators GRASSLEY and Baucus have drafted adding additional funding helps. I am a strong supporter of their efforts. We need the funding that the managers' package provides to improve the rate of return for donor States, such as my home State of Ohio, to get those levels up as high as possible.

Additionally, the managers' package contains the Commerce Committee title of the bill relating to safety programs. This title is comprehensive and deserves the full support of the Senate.

I will take a few minutes now to talk about the safety provisions I have asked to be included in the bill. First, I will say something about Senator Lott's provisions on the Primary Safety Belt Incentive Grant Program.

I thank Senator Lott. I congratulate him for including this provision, a provision that will clearly save lives. Senator Lott came to the Senate floor earlier and spoke about the importance of this provision. I must say what Senator Lott said is absolutely correct. This provision must be kept in the Senate bill. It must be kept through conference. Efforts to modify or remove primary safety belt incentive grants will undermine the national goal of reaching 90 percent safety belt usage. Encouraging States to aim low when it comes to saving lives makes no sense. Such efforts to change this language in the bill must be opposed.

Some States already have primary enforcement laws. Those laws are the single cheapest and most effective means for saving lives on our Nation's roads. Those States that have already enacted primary seatbelt laws have seen lives saved. Other States, such as my home State of Ohio, do not have primary seatbelt laws. These States would benefit tremendously in terms of lives saved and financial bonuses under Senator Lott's program. The incentive program may be the only way to get some States to adopt primary laws.

In Ohio alone, it is estimated we could save nearly 100 lives per year if we added primary belt laws. If we maintain this provision, countless lives will, in fact, be saved. The highway experts, the people who study this issue, who understand it, tell us this is the simplest, cheapest, easiest way to save lives. It is the one thing we could do to save lives in this country the easiest way.

So I thank Senator Lott and commend his efforts and urge my colleagues, if there is an amendment offered to take this provision out, that they oppose that amendment.

Let me say a few things about the provisions in the bill that I have been working on and I have asked to have included and that have, in fact, been included. First, Senator Rockefeller is the lead cosponsor on our provision that we call Stars on Cars. While the name is kind of cute, its focus is quite serious.

Today, when you go to buy a new car, we all know there is a large label on that car, a large label on the window telling the price, the features, and other information about the vehicle. Most of the content on the sticker is actually mandated by the Federal Government. The sticker has to tell you whether the vehicle has a stereo, the car's mileage, how many miles per gallon, and so on. But one piece of vital information, amazingly, is not there, and that is the safety ratings. How safe is that car? That piece of information is not on the sticker.

Citizens have a right to know this information, and our provision would provide, for the first time, that information would be available right on that car, right in the showroom when you walk in to buy the car. Taxpayers have already paid to have the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, test cars for this information. We have already paid for the information. In fact, NHTSA has put this information up on the Internet. It is available on the Internet now. But, nonetheless, this information is not available to the American consumer in the one place where it would be most helpful, the one place where it would truly make a difference: where you buy the car, on the face of the car when you buy it at the dealership.

Our provision would add a new section to the label that would clearly lay out information from each of the crash tests. You would have the information about frontal crash impact, side impact, and rollover resistance. It would show the test results as star ratings on the label, just like many automakers already do in their commercials. This is a commonsense provision, and it is one that will allow consumers the opportunity to make more informed decisions for themselves and their families.

We have found over the last few years that consumers are much more conscious about the safety of the cars they buy, wanting to put their families in safe cars. This is a proconsumer, prosafety provision that makes good common sense. I congratulate the committee for including it in this bill.

Another provision in this package that Senator Rockefeller has cosponsored with me is what we call the Safe Kids and Cars Act. Now, according to NHTSA, automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for those ages 4 to 34. More than cancer, more than fire, more than anything else, auto accidents are the source of child fatalities. We all know that.

The focus of the child safety initiative we have incorporated in this bill is on an emerging danger for small children that is often overlooked. It is referred to as ``nontraffic, noncrash'' accidents. What are those? Well, these are incidents in which there is an interaction between an automobile and a child which leads to injury or death when the vehicle is not on the road or there is no actual crash which has occurred. Instead, these are accidents that happen inside parked cars, in driveways, or other common, potentially deadly situations.

We provide two different things in this title. The title includes two very different sections relating to the Safe Kids and Cars initiative. The first one directs NHTSA, for the very first time, to perform regular collection of data on nontraffic, noncrash injuries and deaths. We need that information. We need that as a matter of public policy. If we are going to prevent them, we have to understand them. We are not collecting the data today. We do not fully understand it.

Further, we have another section that deals with the so-called back-over deaths and requires NHTSA to investigate this issue and the technologies that might help prevent such accidents in the future. These back-over deaths occur in driveways, people's homes. Quite often, every year, a child is backed over and killed. They are becoming more frequent, as people have vans where you cannot see out of the back of the van very well.

We need to better understand the cause of these accidents. We need to have better information. NHTSA needs to investigate this issue and needs to look at the technologies that might help prevent such accidents.

Another provision we have included in this bill we call dangerous roads and intersections. Senator Rockefeller and I have worked on this provision. Every State in the Union, of course, has dangerous roads, dangerous intersections. Most States, fortunately, rank these. Most States come up with a list of what are the dangerous roads, the most dangerous places in the State. They keep a list of them. But, amazingly, there are many States that keep this information secret and never tell the public.

Citizens have a right to know this information. What would you do with the information? Well, if you are a parent, you might tell your child to avoid a certain road: Don't go that way to the movie. Don't go that way to the restaurant. Don't go that way on a date. Go a different way. You have a right to know that information. Or if the public knew about a road that was statistically very dangerous or the State knew that it was dangerous, maybe the public would demand that road be fixed. That is the type of vital information the public has every right to know.

Our provision requires that safety information be disclosed to the public as an eligibility requirement for a new Federal safety funding program, the Highway Safety Improvement Program. States seeking additional Federal dollars for safety construction projects will have to identify their danger spots, rank them according to severity, and then disclose them to the public. It is pretty simple. Most States are already doing it; they just have to disclose it. This is another commonsense provision that truly is going to save lives. I am pleased it has been incorporated into this highway bill.

The fourth issue covered by language in the bill that I included, along with Senator Rockefeller, has to do with driver education and licensing. Teen driving is an area where the fatality rates are very high. Unfortunately, current programs are many times not getting the job done. Higher crash and fatality rates for teenage drivers can be reduced if we work at it. The Federal Government can't run driver education. It is a State responsibility to set standards. But the Federal Government can play a small yet significant role and a productive role. Revitalized driver education needs to be data driven. We can help teenage drivers avoid high-risk situations, particularly in the first 6 months behind the wheel. Integration of driver education with graduated licensing must also be addressed.

The language we have included in the bill creates a driver education and licensing research program within NHTSA. This program will go out and test what works and what doesn't and come up with a ``best practices'' model that States can implement. The time has come to take serious action on driver education and licensing. This program is a solid first step. We need to have scientific data, and the Federal Government is in a good position to come up with this data to assist States as they develop good criteria.

Finally, I have worked with Senator Lautenberg to include a provision in the highway bill to reduce the number of drinking and driving deaths and injuries each year. Statistics are staggering. In 2003, 17,013 Americans died in what we believe were alcohol-related incidents. NHTSA projects this number dropped to 16,654 in 2004, a 2.1-percent reduction. While this is good news, it certainly is still too high. We do want to see the trend continue. To help accomplish that, the language we have supported requires NHTSA to work with the States to conduct combined media-law enforcement campaigns aimed at reducing drunk driving fatalities.

Specifically, the law enforcement portion of this bill consists of sobriety checkpoints in the 39 States that allow them. In the States that don't allow them, it provides for saturation patrols. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the sobriety checkpoints may reduce alcohol-related crashes by as much as 20 percent. That is a significant amount. We should do all we can to help States reduce drinking and driving. This provision will do that.

In conclusion, the fact is that auto fatalities represent the No. 1 killer in this country of those between the ages of 4 and 34. In 2004, NHTSA projects that almost 43,000 people were killed on our Nation's roads. In 2003, the number was 42,643. In fact, in the next 12 minutes, at least one person will be killed in an automobile accident, while nearly 6 people will be injured in the next 60 seconds. This is a tragedy we as a society are much too willing to tolerate. It is so common we kind of shrug it off and put up with it. These auto fatalities occur every day, every hour. And yet somehow we all have become immune to it. This year's highway bill takes some positive steps toward reducing those deaths.

I thank the sponsors for working with me on these safety measures that truly will save lives. I commend them for their efforts and for including these provisions in the bill. I urge my colleagues, once this bill goes to conference, to continue to include these provisions in conference.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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