Remarks by Jim Hall, Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
before the annual meeting of the
National Governors' Association Highway Safety Representatives
San Antonio, Texas, August 30, 1999


Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to again speak at this important national highway safety conference. I'm pleased to be here.

With me today are Kevin Quinlan, Chief of the Safety Advocacy Division, and Meg Sweeney of our Safety Studies Division. I'm sure many of you know and have worked with them.

When I last spoke to this conference in Nashville in 1996, I said that our task was daunting, that at least some of the cards were stacked against us, and that if we continue business as usual, we were going to fall behind and our citizens would suffer. Ladies and gentlemen, three years later, we're still just barely holding the line on highway fatalities.

I would like to ask each of the Governor's Safety Representatives and those that work in their offices to stand. ----- Ladies and gentlemen, these are the most important safety leaders in the country. Why do I say that?

Let me give you some more information on how this impacts the most innocent in our population - our children.

That is why it is so important that your Governors and state legislatures act now on safety legislation that will save lives. You have a key role in making that happen and we are ready to assist you.

As Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, I have dedicated my efforts in 1999 on Child and Youth Transportation Safety and Truck Safety. I would like to outline for you today what steps we believe need to be taken on these and other highway safety issues now. These problems are obvious to everyone and the solutions are available now. It is time to act.

· States can act now to improve the safety of our children and stop these needless and irreplaceable losses.

The thing American families fear most is the loss of one of their children. As a parent myself, I cannot conceive of such an experience, yet every year thousands of parents have to endure this unspeakable loss, most because of preventable highway crashes.

Here in Texas, as in 5 other states, a 2-year-old can be legally restrained by a seatbelt - although we know that seatbelts, like air bags, are designed for use by adults. Safety advocates know that children should be in child restraints up to the age of 4; in booster seats to the age of 8; and in the back seat. However, not one of the 50 states has a child restraint law with all of these requirements in it. Nearly half the states do not require restraint use for a child in the back seat. Only 3 states require children to ride in the back seat of vehicles that have air bags. And, no states require booster seats for children between 4 and 8 years old.

The safety of children should be the first priority of any society, and our society looks upon groups like yours to provide effective leadership. Thomas Jefferson said, "The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate object of good government." Everyone should have zero tolerance for unbuckled children, and it is the states' and industry's responsibility to assist parents in assuring that they are using child safety restraints correctly. Your state's leadership comes from you and your Governor.

For as long as there have been child safety seats, parents and caregivers have had to ask two questions each time they buckle their child into the car: One - did I buckle the child restraint into the car properly? And, two - is my child properly buckled into the restraint system?

They would be able to answer those questions if there was a fitting station available to them. These stations would allow parents to go, at their convenience, to have a safety seat properly installed and to find out if they are using the right restraint for their child's size. In Australia, which has had fitting stations for 15 years, misuse rates are as low as 16 percent in surveys where parents report that they have been to a fitting station. As you know, the misuse rate in this country exceeds 85 percent.

In January, the Board made recommendations to the states and vehicle manufacturers to establish fitting stations. We have had a positive response from several states and auto manufacturers to our recommendations. I know that Meg Sweeney has already given the Governor's Representatives and coordinators information on our child seat fitting station initiative.

I was pleased when DaimlerChrysler announced in June that they would provide this service to their customers and I have urged the other automobile manufacturers to do the same. DaimlerChrysler plans to launch its pilot projects in September at several locations. I'll be at the opening ceremonies next week in Minneapolis and the following week in Washington, D.C. and Denver. What's so important about DaimlerChrysler's program to institutionalize this inspection in their dealerships is that they will be able to inspect 800,000 safety seats annually. That's 10 times more car seats than get inspected now with periodic checks.

But, states shouldn't wait for auto makers to do something. They need to take the lead by coordinating the establishment of permanent fitting stations. In fact, Hawaii, Idaho, and Indiana already have permanent locations. Trained mechanics or certified technicians can do these inspections at automobile repair stations, firehouses, health centers, or wherever annual motor vehicle inspections are done. To date, only 12 states have reported to us on their plans to provide this service. I hope to hear from the others soon.

The challenge of increasing restraint use isn't limited to children. We must find a way to increase restraint use by minorities. As our society becomes more diverse, the "one size fits all" approach will no longer work and we must find new ways of getting our programs and messages across. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater recently said "... the violence of crashes is color blind. All of us, our children and families, are affected by car crashes." He's right. African American and Hispanic male teens have the highest death rates per vehicle mile traveled. According to a report by Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, African American youth are 50 percent less likely to be buckled than whites or Hispanics. It also observed that 100 percent seat belt use by African Americans could save as many as 1,300 lives per year and prevent 26,000 injuries at a savings of nearly $2.6 billion. Your task will be to ensure that you send the right message to reach every community in the country.

· States should act now to adopt a comprehensive graduated licensing bill.

Despite efforts by many states to enact graduated licensing laws, we still have a serious, but preventable, young driver crash problem. We expect to see a 22 percent increase in young drivers nationwide by 2005. Without comprehensive graduated driver licensing laws in every state, this increase in young drivers will lead to even more deaths on our highways.

This year, New Mexico enacted a graduated licensing law that can serve as a model for other states. It requires a mandatory six-month holding period for a learner's permit and a mandatory one-year holding period for an intermediate license. While driving with each of these permits, young drivers also have a nighttime driving restriction and are limited on the number of teens that can be in their car without an adult present. To move to the next level or to get a full license, young drivers must have a clean driving record. As a result, only good driving habits are rewarded.

The purpose of the law is to help young drivers learn to drive in the safest possible environment, to get ample driving time in supervised situations and to reward teens for driving safely. This law works and is saving lives in states where it has been enacted.

Some detractors say that it's too difficult to enforce nighttime restrictions and passenger limits because it is often difficult to know the driver's age. Well, their age isn't what's critical to know. It's their level of experience and the type of license they hold - whether it's a learner's, provisional, or full license. We would do well to follow Australia's lead by requiring young drivers to use front and rear 'L' or 'P' easily removable window decals when they drive. Authorities would then know the driver's license status and other drivers would know to be more aware of possible unexpected driving actions by young, inexperienced drivers.

· State action against drunk driving must be stepped up now.

Any driver who drinks and drives puts you, your family, your friends, and your neighbors at risk. All states need to enforce zero alcohol tolerance laws for young drivers and take other steps that we all know are effective. Some states, such as North Carolina and Tennessee, have found that tougher legislation and a combination of highly visible enforcement measures, such as sobriety checkpoints, have proven extremely effective in reducing alcohol-related crashes.

We also need to concentrate more of our efforts on repeat and high BAC alcohol offenders. NHTSA estimates that about one-third of drivers arrested for impaired driving are repeat offenders. Many persistent drinking drivers are never detected and if they are, their offense may not be treated as a serious crime. I commend the states that have taken action to deal with high BAC drivers and impose vehicle sanctions for those who continue to drink and drive. It's time for the other states to take similar action. The Safety Board is currently preparing a special report on the hardcore drinking driver problem and will probably make additional recommendations to the states later this year.

· Now is the time the states should improve truck and bus safety.

In 1997, 5,355 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks. According to the Los Angeles Times, 26,000 people suffered serious brain injuries or the loss of a limb in almost 400,000 truck crashes in 1996. The total number of people killed in truck crashes has increased in 1996 and 1997. All of us must work to reduce both the crash rate and the number of people who die from the mismatch of vehicle size on our congested highways.

To address this issue, the Safety Board has begun a series of four hearings on truck and bus safety. The first, a three-day hearing focusing on oversight issues, was held in April. Testimony given at the hearing reinforced our concerns that neither the government nor the truck and bus industries have a focused safety agenda. The second hearing begins tomorrow in Nashville and will address how technology applications can be used to improve heavy vehicle safety. The third and fourth hearings will address truck safety issues related to NAFTA and review the commercial driver's license (CDL) process and driver operations in general. At the conclusion of these hearings, we anticipate publishing a report and issuing recommendations that will help reduce truck crashes.

We already know that in order to reduce the number of truck crashes, we need to know what the real problems are. But, to do that we need better data collection. Currently, there is little uniformity in the data collected by the 50 states following highway crashes, other than the fact that all of it is paid for by the taxpayers of those states. As a result, even though the states transmit their data to the federal agencies, comparative analysis of the causes of crashes between States or nationwide is impossible because there are few common data points upon which to base that analysis. I know that your association has been working with the federal government and National Governor's Association to resolve this problem and we eagerly await the results of your efforts.

We also already know that we need substantially better oversight and enforcement activities of motor carriers and drivers. Currently, the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety (OMCHS) doesn't have an effective program to remove the worst motor carriers from our roads. In addition, the current CDL system hinders everyone's ability to identify deficient drivers of heavy vehicles because it often doesn't necessarily reflect all of a driver's convictions and other safety information, such as drug test results.

And we already know that technology can help make trucks safer. Federal and state governments should find ways to ensure that the more than 225,000 new trucks added to our highways next year will have on-board recorders, collision avoidance systems, electronic braking systems, and other intelligent transportation systems - all of which can help prevent crashes on your state roads and save lives.

It is also in the interest of trucking companies to do so. Those companies that have employed the new technologies have enjoyed tremendous success - crashes are down, people are safer and profits are up. One example is USExpress, which has seen a 75 percent decrease in rear-end collisions in its fleet since the installation of collision avoidance systems in their trucks.

Some of you are aware that we have been looking at the issue of bus crashworthiness as it relates to school buses and motor coaches. The Board is scheduled to discuss a final report on the special investigation in a few weeks.

And last but not least, there is a need for highly-visible and dedicated enforcement programs by all the states. Without enforcement, as you all know, it is very difficult to reduce the number of people who continue to defy the public's will for roads that are free of drunk drivers, speeders and aggressive drivers, and who don't protect themselves and their families by failing to buckle up.

· Other steps should be taken by the states now.

I do not have time in these remarks to address the many other important measures that can be taken by your states today that can save the lives of your citizens. These include measures in highway and bridge design, grade crossings, aggressive driving, construction zones, school bus safety and intelligence transportation systems in automobiles.

In closing let me say that I am today sending a letter [see below] to Governor Michael Leavitt of Utah, Chairman of the National Governors' Association, with copies to all the Governors, requesting that highway safety be moved to the top of the Association's agenda. We assume that all states value the safety of their children highly. Yet, when we look at state laws, it is clear that many states discount that value. They fail to provide the full measure of protection within their capability. Similarly, all of your citizens should be protected by the latest technology in truck and bus safety, by the benefits provided by graduated licensing and from the scourge of persistent drunk drivers.

I am asking you today to take the first, bold step. I am requesting that this convention pass a resolution asking that the National Governors' Association take highway safety on as its primary issue. If we do not act now, we're going to get more growth, more congestion, more crashes, more debilitating injuries and more deaths.

Highway safety should be the number one issue in every state in the country, and you, as your states' highway safety representatives, should take the leadership now.

You represent the best that each of your states can provide in assuring the safety of your citizens on your roads. Don't be reluctant to do what's right when it comes to highway safety - that is your first and only goal. I will repeat that we at the Safety Board are prepared to help any of you in any way we can to make sure your citizens are enjoying the benefits of the most effective highway safety initiatives we can develop. But the leadership must come from you and your Governor, and it must come now.

Thank you, and good luck on this most important task.

 


Letter by Jim Hall, Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
to the Honorable Michael O. Leavitt, Chairman
National Governors' Association

August 30, 1999

Honorable Michael O. Leavitt
Chairman
National Governors' Association
210 State Capitol
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114

Dear Governor Leavitt:

I am writing to urge you to make reducing highway crashes throughout the country the number one priority of the National Governors' Association. Your leadership can save thousands of lives a year and prevent America's families from experiencing the most painful trauma of all - the loss of a child.

Highway crashes now account for more than 40,000 deaths and 3.4 million injuries a year. They are the leading cause of death for young Americans ages 6 to 27. Since 1990, over 72,000 children under age 20 have died in motor vehicle crashes, including almost 14,000 under the age of 10. That means that this Nation is losing 33 of its children under the age of 10 every week in motor vehicle crashes. We've also lost nearly 51,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 20 in traffic crashes since 1990 -- over 122 each week. In 1997 alone, almost 9,000 people died in crashes involving young drivers. What these statistics do not tell you is the hundreds of thousands of children who were also injured this decade in crashes. In addition to the immense human and emotional toll of these crashes, they cost the American economy more than $150 billion each year, much of that borne by the States.

How can we, in good conscience, allow this tragedy to continue? States must act now to reduce this tragic toll. You and the other governors already know what needs to be done to make our roads safer. I am enclosing a copy of the speech I delivered today to the National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives, which outlines measures that are achievable today. It is now time for the governors to make them a priority and to get them implemented.

I ask you to use the power of your chairmanship to make our country safer through a coordinated, integrated safety program that involves every State. We assume that all States value the safety of their children highly. Yet, when we look at State laws, it is clear that many States discount that value. They fail to provide the full measure of protection within their capability. To be successful, each governor's leadership is vital to this endeavor. Elected leaders have no more important responsibility than preserving the lives and safety of their citizens.

Therefore, I urge you, and each of your fellow governors, to work together and with your highway safety representatives to stop one more life from being lost needlessly on our roadways.

Sincerely,

[original signed by]

Jim Hall
Chairman

Enclosure [speech above]

cc:
Honorable Parris N. Glendening, Vice Chairman
Governors of all States and Territories and the Mayor of the District of Colombia
Raymond C. Scheppach, Executive Director

 

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