Jim Hall, Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
Committee on Transportation
Senate of the State of Tennessee
regarding Progress and Challenges for Tennessee in Saving Lives on Its Highways
February 5, 1997
Good morning Chairman Haun and members of the Committee, and all
my friends here in the State House. It is a pleasure to be back
in Nashville. With me today are Mr. Barry Sweedler, Director of
the Safety Board's Office of Safety Recommendations, and Ms. Elaine
Weinstein, Chief of the Safety Studies Division.
Today, I want to talk with you about how you can legislatively
provide safeguards for the people of Tennessee against needless
death and injury on our highways. We all focus on crime, and well
we should, but, Mr. Chairman, in the United States today , where
a murder will occur every 21 minutes, someone will die on our
highways every 13 minutes.
Transportation comprises about 11 percent of our nation's gross
domestic product (GDP), and highway transportation is the linchpin
of any successful transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately,
highway crashes lead to more than 90 percent of all transportation-related
fatalities in our country.
During my years in the Governor's Office, most of the state's
economic growth came about because of Tennessee's centralized
location and the strength of its highway network. It is the safety
of that highway network that brings me before you today.
This legislature can be proud of the leadership it has shown the
nation in the area of highway safety over the years. This was
the first state of the Union to adopt a child restraint law. As
a result of this law, usage has grown from 9 percent to 65 percent
today. More than 77 children have been saved as a result of this
law. You subsequently adopted a mandatory safety belt use law
for front seat occupants of automobiles, a zero alcohol tolerance
law for young drivers, a comprehensive age-21 law, a 0.10 blood
alcohol concentration per se law, and a nighttime driving
restriction for drivers under the age of 16.
I would like to congratulate you on the success of your "Checkpoint
Tennessee" program that included almost 900 checkpoints in
every county of the state, involving close to 150,000 drivers
from April 1994 to March 1995. Highly publicized in the media,
the program resulted in a 20 percent reduction in the number of
drunk driving fatal crashes that would have occurred without the
checkpoint program - that's 80 Tennesseeans alive today because
of this program. I am pleased that you are continuing this successful
program and I will be urging other states to follow your example.
I also want to recognize you for your new vehicle confiscation
program that went into effect January 1. Under the program, the
vehicle of someone driving on a license suspended for DWI can
be seized by the police. In addition, any driver who is caught
driving drunk, and who has a previous conviction that took place
after the law went into effect, can also have his or her vehicle
Even though the law has been in effect only a month, I understand
that as of Monday 483 cars have already been seized by city, county
and state agencies. That is very impressive and I urge that you
vigorously encourage full implementation of this law. Since there
are some drivers who will not be deterred by other countermeasures,
taking away their vehicle is a logical and important step to protect
the safety of the public. We are aware of a number of other states
that are also using similar vehicle sanctions. They are all reporting
reductions in crashes and I'm sure you will see the same positive
results here in Tennessee.
Through its safety initiatives, Tennessee has increased its seat
belt use from 19 percent to 63 percent between 1986 and 1995.
In 1982, alcohol-related fatalities comprised over 62 percent
of all highway fatalities in Tennessee and Tennessee was substantially
above the national average. By 1995, that number had dropped below
41 percent and Tennessee was just below that national average.
Although these results are gratifying, some safety messages and
measures are not getting through to the people of our state. That
is the challenge that faces us. In 1994, Tennessee had the 7th
highest highway fatality rate in the nation. In addition, although
highway fatalities have dropped nationwide 9 percent over the
past 20 years, they have gone up in Tennessee by 8 percent. Finally,
where 55 percent of passenger car occupants who died in crashes
in the U.S. were unrestrained, fully 72 percent of fatally injured
Tennesseans - or 514 -- were not restrained at all, one of the
highest rates in the nation. Tennessee has 2 percent of the nation's
population but 3 percent of its highway deaths.
Clearly, the people of Tennessee have a task before them. How
do we reverse these disturbing trends and once again make our
state the leader in highway safety?
I believe I have a number of solutions to offer you today, solutions
we have become familiar with in the course of our accident investigations.
The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent Federal
agency that I have been privileged to lead for almost 3 years.
It investigates all aviation accidents and all major accidents
in the surface modes of transportation, as well as conducting
safety studies on issues of national significance. From these,
it makes recommendations to prevent recurrence of accidents. You
are undoubtedly aware of our ongoing investigation of the TWA
crash off the coast of Long Island, and I'm sure you are familiar
with recent investigations of ours in Tennessee including: the
1988 hazardous materials airliner incident here in Nashville that
might have presaged last year's ValuJet tragedy; the 1990 bridge
collapse in Covington; the 1992 fog-related highway crashes in
Calhoun; the 1994 rail tank car hazardous materials leak in Chattanooga;
the February 1996 Sweetwater tank car collapse; and the September
1996 traffic crash in Nashville where an airbag killed a 5-year-old
The Safety Board has recognized for many years that traffic crashes
are one of this nation's most serious transportation safety problems.
Since 1979, 19,672 people have died on Tennessee's roads alone.
But too often we look upon this problem as one of statistics;
we look at numbers on a page and try to make those numbers lower.
I think we should try to put a face on those numbers. I served
my nation and my state proudly in Vietnam, and was fortunate to
come back alive and well. But many did not. Yet, it took a black
slab of marble cut into the Mall in Washington, D.C. to make our
nation fully appreciate the magnitude of the loss of life in Vietnam.
You probably know that 1,292 soldiers, sailors and airmen from
Tennessee lost their lives in that war. But, do you know that
almost as many Tennesseeans die on our highways every year? What
sort of monument can we erect to those victims that will get the
attention of our citizens?
Put another way, the 1,259 people who lost their lives on our
state's roads in 1995 are the equivalent of a ValuJet crash happening
in our state almost every month. Can you imagine our outrage if
that occurred? Yet, we seem to accept those highway deaths as
long as they occur one, two or three at a time.
On top of all this, Tennesseeans, and specifically this General
Assembly, have another reason for concern: We are facing a second
baby boom. That means that more young people are riding, essentially
unprotected, in vehicles on our roads. It also means that the
downward trend in the 15- to 19-year-old population has already
reversed. By the year 2010, Tennessee's teenage driving population
is projected to grow by 21.4 percent, up to half a million. And
just around the corner, by the year 2000, it is estimated that
traffic will grow by another 7 percent nationwide. This means
more young, novice drivers, more exposure, more crashes, and more
fatalities. If you act now, you can put in place a system that
can reduce these crashes.
Traffic crashes cost each and every Tennesseean $580 in 1994.
That's $580 from the youngest to the oldest, or $2,300 for a family
of four. That's nearly $3.1 billion each and every year in Tennessee.
If you want to reduce health, welfare, and other costs, then we
need to look at reducing fatalities, serious injuries, and other
There are three major ways that you, as legislators, can affect
transportation safety. You can appropriate funds for needed infrastructure
improvements, you can pass legislation like primary seat belt
enforcement or graduated licensing, and you can provide oversight
by ensuring that your transportation authorities are taking care
of bridge inspections, grade crossing safety or other safety responsibilities.
However, none of these improvements will make a difference unless
you ensure that vigorous enforcement is applied throughout the
state. Enforcement must be recognized as a priority to ensure
the success of Tennessee's safety programs.
You have asked me to come today to share with you what my agency
has learned through accident investigations financed by your tax
dollars. If Tennessee wants again to be a leader in highway safety
initiatives, I will present to you a framework that I want you
to consider. These are targeted initiatives that have proven to
I would like to address individual areas where legislative action
and enforcement of that action can make a big difference in the
lives of Tennessee's citizens. As each of these areas is complex
but holds life-saving potential, I would like to address each
area individually and then answer questions you may have. The
issues I will address are:
If this is acceptable, Mr. Chairman, I will proceed.
Graduated Licensing for Young Drivers
No year passes without tragedies involving young lives being snuffed
out in unnecessary and preventable car crashes. Every high school
graduation season includes reports of crashes involving recent
graduates and, all too frequently, alcohol, as well.
An accident here in Nashville two weeks ago is typical of what
we are trying to curtail with graduated licensing. Seven people
were injured when the drivers of two cars, 16 and 19 years old,
collided while drag racing. The 16-year-old was carrying 5 other
young people, including a 3-year-old riding on the lap of a 14-year-old
in the front seat. A third car was struck, critically injuring
This crash points out the characteristics of fatal crashes involving
young novice drivers. The drivers and/or passengers frequently
are not belted; the cars are loaded with the driver's peers; inattention
is endemic; excessive speed may be involved; alcohol may be involved;
and the crashes occur at night, at a time when both roads and
risks do not appear the same as during the day.
The combination of inexperience and immaturity can be deadly.
When night driving and alcohol are added to the equation, crash
risk increases dramatically. Yet, these crashes are preventable
and there are legislative measures that are successful in reducing
both crashes and fatalities.
I'm sure you have heard the grim statistics on preventable death,
but let me recount just a few. Young drivers age 15-20 years comprise
about 7 percent of all drivers, but about 15 percent of highway
fatalities. They do about 20 percent of their driving at night,
but about 50 percent of their fatalities occur at night. Traffic
crashes are 40 percent of all deaths for this age group and are
their leading cause of death. Beginning drivers have a very high
crash risk. Male drivers have 6 times the fatality risk of older
drivers. In 1995, there were about 8,900 fatalities involving
4,800 15- to 20-year-old drivers. Tennessee had 291 such fatalities
in 1995, 23 percent of the state's highway fatalities.
In Tennessee, 16-year-old drivers were 3.2 times more likely to
be involved in a fatal crash, 3.9 times more likely to be involved
in an injury/fatal crash and 3.7 times more likely to be involved
in any type of crash when compared to drivers aged 25 to 54. On
average, over the past three years drivers aged 16 to 18 have
accounted for 18,700 crashes annually. These crashes represent
11.7 percent of all crashes that occurred in Tennessee, despite
the fact that this group of drivers represents only 4.2 percent
of the state's licensed drivers.
For the last decade, the number of young persons (age 15-20) has
been declining. However, in 1994 that trend started to reverse.
For the next decade, our youth population will increase. Here
in Tennessee, it is projected that there will be more than 500,000
youngsters aged 15 to 20 by the year 2010. The logical consequence
of this demographic change is simple: more population, more drivers,
more exposure, and regrettably, more crashes and fatalities. Thus,
if we do nothing at all, crashes will increase.
Given the appalling number of deaths, injuries, and crashes, what
more can we do to reduce the toll? On March 11, 1993, the National
Transportation Safety Board, as part of its study to reduce highway
crashes involving youth, issued a safety recommendation that asked
the States to "Enact laws to provide for a provisional license
system for young novice drivers."
What we need to do is to introduce the driving privilege gradually
for beginning drivers. We need to provide for enhanced driver
practice under the safest possible real-world conditions. We need
to help them gradually develop the skills needed for full licensure
and to create a system to both help and involve parents in the
process. As skills and maturity developed, the new driver can
proceed to full licensure. Beyond that, we need to more rapidly
identify young problem drivers before bad habits and behaviors
become ingrained. We need to take driver improvement action more
quickly and more effectively than with older drivers. In that
way, we can prevent crashes over the long run. We also need a
nighttime driving restriction for the first year of driving
so that adults can teach young people to drive at night. In an
analogy that may be helpful, we don't proceed from walking to
riding a bicycle in one step. We need training wheels to make
the learning process safer. The National Safety Council recently
described graduated licensing as "training wheels for young
How effective are these measures? In our report, we discussed
provisional or graduated licensing. The Safety Board reviewed
findings from New Zealand and from the States of California and
Maryland that had implemented portions of a graduated licensing
system. California achieved a 5 percent crash reduction among
drivers from age 15 to 17. Maryland achieved a 5 percent reduction
among 16 and 17-year-old drivers. New Zealand achieved an 8 percent
crash reduction among drivers from age 15 through 19. A study
of the Oregon graduated license program identified a 16 percent
crash reduction among 16 and 17 year old male drivers.
You can expect an additional crash reduction and life-saving effect
from a nighttime driving restriction in the first year of licensure.
A study of nighttime driving restrictions in four States found
the following crash reductions among 16-year-old drivers: 69 percent
in Pennsylvania; 62 percent in New York; 40 percent in Maryland;
and 25 percent in Louisiana. Generally, the earlier in the night
that the restriction starts, the greater the crash reduction that
is achieved. Many States include conditions or exemptions related
to work or school, but may also limit routes or number of passengers
In our report and recommendations to the States, the Safety Board
also addressed the components of a model system as described by
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American
Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. The National Committee
on Traffic Laws and Ordinances has developed a model graduated
licensing law that was included in the Uniform Vehicle Code last
fall. The model includes mandatory safety belt use, zero alcohol
tolerance, a nighttime driving restriction, prompt driver improvement
actions, parent/adult supervised practice, limited period learner's
permit, and demonstrated safe driving to qualify for full licensure.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed
a three stage model for graduated licensing for young novice drivers.
The stages are: Learner's Permit; Intermediate or Provisional
License; and Full License. All stages include mandatory safety
belt use, zero alcohol tolerance, and a distinctive permit until
age 21. The first two stages also include more rapid driver improvement
actions based on at-fault crashes and violations. The first two
stages also promote driver education and parent participation
in the process and restricted night driving. The model suggests
the use of a vision and knowledge test for the learner's permit;
a knowledge and skills test for the provisional license; and a
minimum holding period for each permit. Completion of the first
two stages as well as at-fault crash and violation free driving
is rewarded by full licensure. In this manner, the graduated license
system confronts the crash-causing combination of inexperience
The Safety Board believes that tough, fair laws, vigorous enforcement,
and intensive and targeted education campaigns are needed to reduce
youth crashes. We strongly believe that graduated licensing including
a nighttime driving restriction can be the most effective action
that the Tennessee legislature can take to save both young lives
and the lives of others involved in crashes with young drivers.
Primary Safety Belt Use Laws
The Safety Board recommended in June 1995 that States enact legislation
that provides for primary enforcement of mandatory safety belt
use laws. Primary enforcement means that law enforcement officers
may issue a citation any time they observe an unbelted driver
or passenger. The current secondary enforcement provision in Tennessee's
law allows an officer to issue a citation only if the officer
has stopped the vehicle for some other reason. Although every
State except New Hampshire has a mandatory use law, only 12 states
have primary enforcement.
Because I believe so strongly in this program, last spring I had
the pleasure of meeting with Speaker of the Georgia House Tom
Murphy and Lt. Governor Pierre Howard, and testifying on proposed
primary enforcement legislation. I was pleased to learn that Georgia
enacted its primary enforcement law shortly thereafter. I hope
this trip proves as fruitful.
Increasing the safety belt use rate is the most effective way
of cutting the highway death toll. There is no debate that properly
worn safety belts prevent injuries. The National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration has estimated that more than 14,000 lives
could be saved every year if all front seat occupants used safety
The recent controversy about the dangers of airbags to children
and small adults underscores the importance of seat belt use as
the best primary restraint system. While we believe airbags are
a proven safety device for most properly restrained adults, we
emphasize that they are a supplemental safety device. I'll say
more about air bags when we discuss child restraint issues.
Mr. Chairman, no matter how many millions of dollars have been
spent since 1979 improving the design of automobiles, and no matter
how many hundreds of dollars we spend in the purchase of our automobiles
to pay for safety features, all that money goes for naught if
we don't wear our seat belt.
States with primary enforcement have lower fatality rates. For
example, during the first full year after enforcement of belt
laws, fatality rates dropped 21 percent in five primary law states,
compared to only 7 percent in 11 secondary law states. Young drivers
are particularly affected by primary enforcement laws. There was
a 24 percent reduction in fatality rates for persons under age
21 in the primary law states compared to a 3 percent reduction
for that age group in secondary law states.
Tennessee's 1996 belt usage rate was 63 percent, which is below
the nationwide rate of 66 percent, and a 1 percent decline
from the previous year. In 1995, every State with primary enforcement
except one had a belt use rate higher than 70 percent, and five
were at 80 percent or higher. Only 5 States with secondary laws
had belt use rates higher than 70 percent, and only one was above
80 percent. That state, Washington, maintains an intensive enforcement
The experience of other States shows that primary enforcement
increases the numbers of people who use their belts. States with
primary enforcement average about 13 percent higher use rates
than secondary states. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
has estimated that a 15 percent increase in belt use in Tennessee
would prevent 124 fatalities per year, and about 2,500 injuries.
It would also save $158 million a year in medical and other related
After California became the first state to change its secondary
enforcement laws to primary enforcement, its use rate rose from
70 percent to 83 percent. Similar increases in Tennessee would
not only save lives, it would save dollars. The National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration estimates that an increase to 75
percent nationwide would save more than $3 billion annually, including
$684 million in health care costs and $328 million in taxes and
public assistance. Belted crash victims average 60 to 80 percent
lower hospital costs than unbelted victims. Tennessee could expect
to reap its share of these benefits.
There also is public support for these laws. A 1991 nationwide
phone survey found that 73 percent of the population would support
primary enforcement legislation if they knew that it would result
in more belt use and lives being saved. Surveys show that law
enforcement officers consistently prefer primary laws.
Finally, let me offer a comment about the fines associated with
safety belt use law violations here and in many other states.
The current penalty for not wearing a safety belt in Tennessee
is $25. In many places, parking tickets are more expensive. A
North Carolina survey of "hard core" non-users found
that the current low fines in most states are not an effective
deterrent. A far more effective deterrent would be assessment
of points against the driver's license, and a fine of $50 or more
that can be provided to your schools and libraries. In North Carolina,
more than $3 million has been provided to schools under such a
program. I urge you to consider these measures in any legislation
to strengthen Tennessee's seat belt use law.
Seat belts are an important part of the safety equipment that
is in every vehicle on our nation's roads. We would not consider
driving without using other devices, such as the headlights at
night. Just as it is illegal to drive without headlights during
darkness, so also should we require that seat belts be used by
all occupants of all motor vehicles.
The need for strong laws protecting all children riding in motor
vehicles has been brought to the forefront in recent months by
public reports of children being killed in relatively minor collisions
by air bag deployments. That awareness came too close to home
on September 11, 1996 when 5-year-old Francis Ambrose was killed
by the air bag in her parent's 1996 Dodge Caravan right here in
Nashville. This was a low speed crash, one that Frances should
have walked away from. The rest of her family did. But Frances
was hit in the head by the air bag as it inflated and sustained
fatal brain injury. What is particularly tragic about this crash
is that Frances was wearing her lap and shoulder belt.
Air bags are designed to be a supplemental restraint system. That
means that the lap/shoulder belt is the primary restraint in the
event of a crash. But, as we have all heard by now, air bags inflate
at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. And they do this in the
blink of an eye. They have to inflate fast in order to cushion
the occupant during the impact phase of the crash. The Safety
Board believes that air bags are a proven safety device for most
properly restraint adults in severe frontal crashes. Most representatives
of government and industry view air bags as an important life-saving
device when used in conjunction with a seatbelt. But, air bags,
as they are currently designed, can inflict serious or even fatal
injuries to anyone seated too close to the air bag when it deploys.
This is especially true for children, whether they are restrained
or not. Because of this, parents should, whenever possible, keep
any child under 12 years old in the back seat and be sure the
child is properly restrained.
But let's be realistic, 22 children died nationally in 1996 from
air bag crashes. In 1996 in Tennessee alone, preliminary information
indicates that 17 children under the age of five died in highway
crashes. Eleven of them were unrestrained. The very first thing
that this committee can do to reduce the number of deaths and
injuries to children and to be back in the leadership role of
child passenger safety is to enact legislation that requires that
all children be properly restrained in all seating positions.
There should be no tolerance in Tennessee for unrestrained children.
In September 1996, the Safety Board adopted a study on the performance
and use of occupant protection systems for children -- child restraint
systems, vehicle seat belts, and air bags. This study examined
the adequacy of relevant Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,
the comprehensiveness of State child restraint and seat belt use
laws, and the adequacy of public information and education on
child passenger protection.
The Board's study found that most of the children in the sample
were not in the appropriate restraint for their age, height and
weight and even when the child was in the appropriate restraint
for their size, less than half were properly restrained.
Which restraint is used and how it is used can make a big difference
in the level of injury sustained. If you look at the slide on
the screen, the pie on the left is where everything was done correctly
- the child was using the appropriate restraint for their age,
height and weight, and they were using the restraint system properly.
The pie on the right is where they did everything wrong - the
child was not in the appropriate restraint for their size and
the restraint was not being used properly. If you look at the
level of injury severity, only about one-quarter of the children
doing everything right sustained more than a minor injury (the
red slice of the pie) compared to over two-third's of the children
doing everything wrong.
The lap/shoulder belt was worn improperly by 14 children in the
Board's sample, including 8 children who wore the shoulder portion
behind their back and 2 who wore it under their arm. Poor shoulder
belt fit was reported by 8 of the 14 children as the reason for
their improper use. Proper use of the shoulder portion of the
lap/shoulder belt increased in our sample as the child's height
increased above 50 inches.
In addition to using the appropriate restraint for the child's
age, height and weight and using the restraint system properly,
the child's seating location can influence injury severity. Children
seated in the back seats in our sample were less likely to sustain
injury than children in the front seats.
Tennessee has a good and comprehensive child restraint law. It
covers children under the age of 12 and does not permit children
under 4 to substitute a seat belt for a child restraint. Tennessee's
law does not, however, require children between 4 and 8 years
old to be in a booster seat. The Board's recent study shows that
children under about 50 inches tall do not properly fit in a lap/shoulder
belt. These children need the additional protection of a booster
seat that repositions the lap/shoulder belt to fit the child properly.
Tennessee can again lead the way in child passenger safety by
ensuring that children under 8-years old are properly protected
by a child restraint or a booster seat.
Tennessee needs to rededicate its efforts in child passenger safety.
As the slide on the overhead shows, when the child restraint law
was passed in 1979, the rate of fatalities for children under
5 fell from 2.2 percent of all Tennessee highway fatalities to
0.8 percent in 1982. But that number has slowly crept up to about
2 percent again. We can do better. As I said earlier, there should
be no tolerance in Tennessee of unbuckled children. Start with
enforcement of the existing child restraint law. Also upgrade
the law to cover the 5- to 8- year olds who are too small to be
properly protected by seat belts.
I can assure you that the Safety Board will do its part on child
passenger safety. I will be chairing a public hearing in Washington,
DC in March on air bag and child passenger safety issues. We will
be looking carefully at how to make the back seat of the car a
friendlier environment for children and how to simplify the design
and installation of child restraints. The Safety Board is concerned
about the difficulty that parents face each time they place their
child in a child restraint system. Parents assume that they can
just put the child restraint in the car and buckle the seat belt
and the child will be protected. They also assume that they can
place the child in the restraint system, fasten it, and the child
will be safe. These are reasonable assumptions.
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The Board has recommended
that the automobile manufacturers take a number of actions to
make the back seat of the car a friendlier environment for children.
This includes providing integrated retraint systems that are designed
specifically for children, offering adjustable shoulder belt anchorages
to accommodate children who have outgrown their booster seats,
but are not yet tall enough to fit into the adult shoulder belt,
and installation of center rear lap/shoulder belts.
We tell parents that the center of the back seat is the safest
place for children, yet the automakers provide only a lap belt
for the child to use. These are the kinds of issues that we will
be discussing at our public hearing next month. We will also be
discussing issues related to the design of air bags, who should
disconnect their air bags, and how to evaluate their effectiveness.
Administrative License Revocation, the law in 39 states and the
District of Columbia, would have saved between 463 and 694 lives
in Tennessee alone had our state adopted it in 1979. I hope Tennesseeans
will soon be able to benefit from this much-needed legislation.
In 1988, the Safety Board launched a "Go Team" to Carrollton,
Kentucky to investigate the worst alcohol-related highway crash
in American history: the collision of a pick-up truck and a church
The pick-up truck driver had been drinking and was going the wrong
way on an Interstate highway. He survived the crash. The passengers
on the bus were not so fortunate. Twenty seven innocent people
- most of them children -- died and 34 more suffered injuries
when the bus burst into flames. Ninety minutes after the crash,
the driver's blood alcohol content was 0.26 percent.
The night of the crash, news of the tragedy flashed across the
TV screens and the front pages of our newspapers. The deaths of
those 27 people caught the nation's attention. People were outraged
by the horror caused by one person's impairment and irresponsible
behavior. They immediately called for action to prevent this kind
of crash from happening again.
But the problem goes far beyond that one tragedy. Traffic crashes
-- nearly half of which involve alcohol -- are the fourth leading
cause of death in our country today and the primary cause of death
for all persons up to age 34. Preventing these impaired driving
related deaths would cost significantly less than what society
pays as a consequence of drunk driving. Yet, the crashes are preventable;
the deaths and injuries are preventable, and your actions can
accomplish those goals.
In 1995, 1,259 people were killed in traffic crashes in Tennessee,
512 of those fatalities involved alcohol. Many thousands more
suffered injuries in alcohol-related crashes. Highway fatalities
have increased in Tennessee for the last four years, and, for
the first time since 1991, alcohol-related fatalities increased.
Most experts agree that many impaired drivers persist in their
behavior because they believe they will not be caught and/or convicted.
Unfortunately, that perception is based on reality. In most jurisdictions
that do not have administrative license revocation, experience
proves that drivers have little reason to fear apprehension. In
fact, the odds of being arrested for driving while impaired are
as low as one in one thousand. Stated another way, the average
intoxicated person can drive from New York to Los Angeles and
halfway back without being arrested. Also, you should know that,
nationwide, driving-while-impaired arrests have decreased 25 percent
in the last five years. You can have no credible deterrence without
strong and visible enforcement.
And, even if arrested, the DWI case crawls through the judicial
system while the driver is still on the streets and highways.
A typical drunk driving case takes an average of 90-120 days to
complete and sometimes as long as a year. During that time, the
driver retains his or her license. All too frequently the subject
-- even before being tried for the first offense -- is arrested
again for driving while impaired.
Following the Carrollton crash, the Safety Board issued a series
of recommendations intended to help curb the threat of drunken
drivers. The single most important one called for the States,
including Tennessee, to adopt an administrative license revocation
or suspension law.
Administrative license revocation gives a law enforcement officer
the authority, on behalf of the state licensing agency, to confiscate
the license of any driver who either fails or refuses to take
a chemical breath test. To be truly effective, the officer must
be able to confiscate the license on the spot.
Once a driver's license has been confiscated, the driver is issued
a temporary license that is valid for a short, specified period
of time. During that time he or she may seek an administrative
hearing -- a process that is independent of any criminal proceedings.
That hearing addresses a single issue: Did the driver fail or
refuse to take a breath test? If the answer is yes, the license
The impaired driver is off the road, with no dilatory tactics,
no mitigating circumstances, no plea bargaining and no pre-trial
diversion. Offenders may still face criminal proceedings, but
the important thing is that they are off the road in very short
Based upon the extensive experience of the 39 jurisdictions that
have adopted administrative license revocation, it works.
It specifically deters those drivers who are caught drinking
and driving from doing it again. And, it generally deters those
who have not been caught, because they are afraid of losing
their driving privileges.
Opponents of administrative license revocation argue that it is
unconstitutional -- that it denies the impaired driver due process.
However, in no state has ALR been declared unconstitutional. To
the contrary, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that revocation of
a license, prior to an administrative hearing, is not a violation
of due process as long as there are provisions for a swift post-suspension
hearing. While some may argue individual rights, you know that
the first duty in ensuring freedom is in ensuring life and security.
When the Federal Aviation Administration believes that public
safety is endangered, it immediately revokes a pilot's license.
The pilot's appeal is heard within 15 days by an Administrative
Law Judge. And, if the action is further appealed to the full
Safety Board, we are required to issue a decision within 60 days
after the revocation. The immediacy of the process helps to insure
the safety of the nation's airways. There is no reason why we
cannot and should not do at least as much to protect the public
on our nation's streets and highways. ALR is not roadside adjudication
by a single officer because of the checks and balances inherent
in the system.
The Safety Board's support of ALR is based on sound research and
evidence gathered from states that have adopted the procedure.
DELAWARE, when possible, tests all fatally injured drivers for
alcohol. When the state compared the number of drinking drivers
(those with a BAC greater than 0.05 percent) before and after
implementation of its law, it found that number had decreased
by 19 percent in just one year. A more recent study sponsored
by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found a 14 percent decline
in the presence of alcohol among fatally injured drivers.
In MINNESOTA the law was aggressively implemented -- and it is
working. Administrative license revocations for alcohol-related
offenses have increased every year in the decade following its
implementation in 1976. Roadside surveys in 1975 and 1985 revealed
a 60 percent reduction in the number of drivers on the road after
midnight with a BAC level of 0.10 percent or higher -- a drop
from one driver in ten to only one in 24.
Many other states have experienced equally dramatic results.
One of the most important studies of the issue was conducted by
the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). This study
examined the effects of administrative license revocation and
other laws on fatal crashes in selected states. IIHS concluded
that administrative license revocation laws were the most effective
of the laws studied. Between 6:00 PM and 6:00 AM -- when more
than half of all fatally injured drivers had BACs over 0.10 percent
-- administrative license revocation is estimated to have reduced
the involvement of drivers in fatal crashes by nine percent. A
U.S. Department of Justice study demonstrates that states with
an ALR law have reduced recidivism rates among drinking/driving
Mr. Chairman, the Safety Board recognizes that these are difficult
financial times for most state governments. It recognizes the
necessity for new legislation to be cost effective and at least
revenue neutral. Start-up and first year operating expenses of
an administrative license revocation law have been less than $1
million, and rarely have they exceeded $500,000. All states have
been able to recover their costs by charging license reinstatement
fees. In fact, one study in Illinois, Nevada and Mississippi found
that each collected more in reinstatement fees than it
spent in start-up and annual operating costs. Revenues generated
were 1.3 to 2 times greater than required. Perhaps more significant
are the societal cost savings realized from fewer highway crashes
in the three states was over $230 million -- $230 million that
could be used for other programs.
The concern that the loss of driving privileges, especially in
rural areas, would result in the loss of a job, prompted studies
in New Mexico, Mississippi and Delaware to determine whether the
concern is justified. In all three states, the problem was minimal.
For example, in Delaware, a small rural state with little public
transit, only 1.2 percent of all whose licenses were revoked lost
their jobs -- a group that included two school bus drivers. Loss
of employment resulting from the loss of a driver's license is
The public clearly recognizes the threat to public safety posed
by drunk drivers. Recent public opinion surveys have shown that
a large majority of the public supports administrative license
revocation. According to a Louis Harris poll, 89 percent of those
surveyed endorsed automatic license revocation.
In summary, ALR:
1. Suspends the licenses of dangerous drivers more expediently;
3. Deters impaired driving both by those whose licenses have been suspended and by those who have not;
4. Is cost effective and may even generate revenue; and
I urge you, both as Chairman of the Safety Board and a Tennesseean, to enact an ALR law. It's the right thing to do.
Nationwide, the vast majority of first offender drinking drivers
have a serious problem with alcohol. Well over two-thirds of them
and perhaps as much as 90 percent of first offenders are problem
drinkers. The term "first offense" is a misnomer. It's
just the first time they've been caught. Further, they have very
high BACs, on average above 0.15 percent. Yet we treat them gingerly
and frequently bargain away this "first offense." Then
they come through the system again as a first offender. I believe
and the Safety Board has recommended that Tennessee should have
a task force to review it's processing of DWI offenders and determine
what changes should be made. Some States have added the concept
of aggravation where the BAC is over a certain level such as 0.15
or 0.20 percent. The first offender may then be more appropriately
treated as an offender with an alcohol problem allowing more significant
interventions to take place.
According to recent media accounts, some counties in Tennessee
are confiscating the vehicles of repeat offenders who won't change
their behavior, as authorized by the new law that went into effect
last month. This is a good idea that is bearing fruit in many
States. We are now finding that persons with high BACs and repeat
offenses are also those who do not use belts and who drive on
suspension. We need to treat driving on suspension as a serious
offense and take both criminal and administrative action.
Administrative actions should include vehicle interlocks, immobilization
or impoundment, plate impoundment, special plates or stickers,
and a lower BAC level indicated on the license for drivers who
have been convicted of DWI. Even vehicle forfeiture belongs in
the administrative action category. The Minnesota experience is
that the courts do not take the action required by law in most
cases whereas the police and DMV will.
However, we have seen effective impoundment programs, and California's
experience should provide insight into how successful Tennessee's
new program can be. The San Francisco and Santa Rosa impoundment
programs have been shown to be effective. Crashes are down and
the cities are realizing revenue from selling the cars. But we
need more and consistent sanctions against these drivers. Remember,
we aren't talking about the run-of-the-mill driver here. We have
a person who, through their actions, have identified themselves
as a problem. They don't obey the rules and they put others at
risk-not once or twice but consistently. We need to identify suspended
drivers through "hot sheet" and surveillance programs
and we need the courts to take action. And if they don't, we need
laws that allow the police as agents of the DMV to do so.
As we have become more effective in deterring people who can moderate
their drinking behavior, the DWI population includes more "hardcore"
drinkers who need special attention and special programs to separate
them from their vehicles. We will be glad to work with you in
developing legislation and programs in this area.
Truck Driver Fatigue/Rest Stops
As all of you know, transportation is one of the largest and most
dynamic industries in our economy -- generating $688 billion of
our Gross Domestic Product at last count.
The South, in particular, was built on transportation. Our highways,
railways and rivers provided the platform on which this region's
dynamic economy was built. This platform must not be allowed to
crumble through neglect, but already it is estimated that fully
a third of our nation's interstate highway system is in poor or
mediocre condition and a quarter of the bridges are classified
as deficient. That should make for an interesting discussion when
ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Act) is up for renewal
Since becoming Chairman of the Safety Board, one of my great concerns
has been that of fatigue among transportation operators in all
modes. Let me suggest one area where there is a significant need
for action at the State level right now. Fatigue is a constant
concern in the trucking industry, in part because there is a shortage
of places for drivers to stop and rest when they need to do so.
Further, the problem appears to be most severe in the Southeast;
6 of the 10 states with the greatest need are in this part of
In a 1995 study on truck driver fatigue, the Safety Board found
that the critical factors in predicting fatigue-related accidents
are the duration of the most recent sleep period, the amount of
sleep in the past 24 hours, and fragmented sleep patterns. Let
me give you some specific information.
The truck drivers in fatigue-related accidents in our sample obtained
an average of 5.5 hours sleep in the last sleep period prior to
the accident. This was 2.5 hours less than the drivers involved
in nonfatigue-related accidents.
The hours-of-service regulations currently do not provide the
opportunity to obtain an adequate amount of sleep because they
do not consider time needed for travel, eating, personal hygiene,
or recreation. The Safety Board has made recommendations to the
Federal Highway Administration to revise the hours-of-service
regulations to ensure that truck drivers have adequate time to
In addition, truck drivers with split sleep patterns obtained
about 8 hours sleep in a 24-hour time period; however, they obtained
it in small segments, on the average of 4 hours at a time. The
data and research indicate that sleep accumulated in short time
blocks impedes the recovery of performance abilities. Although
the Safety Board encourages the use of sleeper berths for strategic
napping and recognizes that sleeper berths may allow for continuous
sleep, truck drivers should not be encouraged or permitted to
split their sleep. The Safety Board has asked the Federal Highway
Administration to eliminate the sleeper berth exemption that permits
truck drivers to split their sleep.
But where can truck drivers sleep? The steady growth of trucking nationwide has increased the demand for rest areas along the Nation's highways. In part this is reflected by evidence that truck drivers seeking rest are increasingly parking illegally on highway shoulders and exit ramps. One study found a shortfall of 28,400 truck parking spaces. And each year aggravates the problem; by the year 2004, there will be 13 percent more heavy trucks on our road.
Tennessee is short 700 rest stop spaces for their needs according to the American Trucking Association. They could be co-located with highway patrol stations or weight stations to use existing dedicated space and to address security concerns. Failure to solve the truck parking shortage could pose significant risks to the traveling public by forcing tired drivers to continue driving.
Many of the truck drivers in the Board's accident sample who were
involved in fatigue-related accidents did not recognize that they
were in need of sleep and believed that they were rested when
they were not. About 80 percent of the drivers involved in fatigue-related
accidents rated the quality of their last sleep before the accident
as good or excellent. There is a need for better information for
truck drivers on the effects of fatigue. In an attempt to increase
the number of qualified truck drivers in Tennessee, information
on fatigue should be made available through all truck driver training
programs in the State and at truck stops and rest areas.
We need to help Americans understand that the impact of highway
crashes goes far beyond the terrible human statistics.
As I noted earlier, motor vehicle crash costs in 1994 were almost
$151 billion, or $580 for every American; 2.2 percent of our Gross
Domestic Product. Every fatality costs over $830,000 and every
critical injury costs nearly as much, $706,000.
o Consider how the costs are spread across government-or absorbed by each of us as responsible taxpayers.
o Consider the effects on police, emergency providers, and health care professionals.
o Consider that too many of the injured do not have health insurance or have inadequate insurance.
o Consider that the taxpayers pick up the costs at public hospitals
and that Medicaid or Medicare may pick up the costs making the
taxpayer pay again. About one-quarter of the medical costs and
about 10 percent of all crash costs come from public revenues.
And who provides those revenues? You and I do, the responsible
majority, those who buckle up, wear motorcycle helmets, and drink
responsibly or not at all. It is we who subsidize the high-risk
driver who thumbs his nose at safety laws, at responsible behavior
and at the rest of us.
We need to help the majority of responsible citizens understand
how much money is being taken out of their pockets by this irresponsible
minority. We need to stop subsidizing and thereby reinforcing
negative behavior. How can we do it? Besides publicizing the extent
of the tragedy, the cost of the tragedy, and personalizing the
tragedy, we need to do something new.
As the management people say, we need to think "outside the box."
o Why should the taxpayers pay benefits for those who are irresponsible?
o How do we recover the costs for those who are irresponsible?
o How do we pay for our very expensive system to deal with the
over 41,000 fatalities, 5.2 million injuries, and 27 million damaged
vehicles every year?
What kind of message are we sending when incentive grants are
reduced or eliminated? The current federal $125 million highway
safety program has shown better than a $30 return for each dollar
invested. But I think we all know that if existing federal programs
are turned into block grants, safety programs will suffer.
Now, I'm all in favor of downsizing government, but that does
not mean we should downsize safety. And where the federal government
has transferred more of its authority, the States must step in.
What you need are the resources necessary to get the job done.
We can look to North Carolina and perhaps to British Columbia
for some answers. Safety Board staff have been looking at ways
to develop consistent, dedicated funding to maintain and to improve
highway safety. The North Carolina alcohol "Booze It and
Lose It" and safety belt "Click It or Ticket" checkpoints
increased safety belt use to over 82 percent, cut illegal BACs
at checkpoints for nighttime drivers in half, and achieved a reduction
in alcohol-related fatal crashes. They also have the serendipitous
effect of identifying and arresting felons and fugitives
So, in North Carolina, belt use is up dramatically and alcohol-related
crashes are down dramatically, but even more important to the
consumer, auto insurance costs have decreased dramatically. North
Carolina has gone from one of the most expensive insurance states
to the 6th lowest in the nation. Rate request increases
have been reduced by $33 million and $110 million has been refunded,
with more expected. Insurance companies have contributed to the
North Carolina highway safety program.
Can Tennessee do this? Why not? I've been told that all you need
to do is to ask your insurance commissioner. But let's say that
we need more than rate reductions and voluntary contributions.
Maybe we need a dedicated safety fund. What would you do, how
much more effective could you be, how many lives could you save
if you had double or triple the resources you have now? It is
There are ways to obtain that dedicated funding for highway safety
improvement programs. We can institute a modest program that would
generate additional safety funds that could augment current federal
Did you know that there were nearly $114 billion dollars in auto
insurance premiums written in this country in 1994? Nearly $97
billion for private passenger auto insurance and nearly $17 billion
for commercial vehicle insurance. The average auto insurance expenditure
in Tennessee was $488.
Why not allocate one-tenth of one percent of auto insurance premiums
to highway safety? This would have generated over $110 million
But why only ask the insurance industry to participate? We could be even more creative by spreading contributions to the safety fund across all who contribute to the problem. To generate more than twice as much funding to Tennessee and other States as NHTSA provided, let's say $400 million dollars per year, we could also ask for:
o 25 cents for every registered vehicle;
o $5 for each new car sold each year;
o One-tenth of a cent for each gallon of fuel; and
o 5 cents for each gallon of alcohol sold.
No one would feel pain if small contributions to the safety fund
are spread across highway users and those industries that contribute
to safety problems on our highways.
How would you fund it in Tennessee and how much would be available
for enforcement and education? Twenty-five cents for every registered
vehicle would generate about $1.3 million. Five dollars on each
new vehicle sold would generate about $1.8 million. Retrieving
one-tenth of one percent of vehicle insurance premiums would generate
over $2.5 million and one-tenth of a cent on each gallon of fuel
would generate over $2.6 million. How about a nickel on every
gallon of (pure) alcohol sold? That would bring you nearly over
$450,000 and a dime would bring close to $1 million. There's nearly
$9 million dollars each and every year. And that doesn't include
fine revenue. That's three times the amount of money Tennessee
got from the federal government last year for its highway safety
We know this is tough, but not doing it is tougher. How many people
are we willing to lose before we provide the prevention and deterrence
that's necessary. You are key to both prevention and deterrence
and you need help. Here's a source.
This level would be base level funding. But these funds must be
managed properly, perhaps by a bipartisan oversight commission.
Your governor's highway safety representative has been effective
in using funds to meet Tennessee's safety needs. But more needs
to be done.
The insurance industry partnership has been shown to be important
in both North Carolina and British Columbia. Insurance companies
have been active partners in safety in the past, and this partnership
can be more rewarding in the future. It's a win-win situation.
In British Columbia, the provincial insurance company received
an $8 reduction in claims for each dollar invested in their safety
program. This can work. If we want high-risk behavior to
change, we have to build a strong comprehensive prevention network
and teach prevention to children, parents and other adults. We
also need to maintain high profile, clear, and credible deterrence
and enforcement programs.
Let me close by repeating that this framework I've presented to you today, ranging from child restraints to administrative license revocation to construction of truck stops, can, if adopted, place Tennessee once again at the forefront of our nation's highway safety movement. We at the National Transportation Safety Board work for you. Please let us know what we can do to help you achieve our common goal of the safest highway system possible.