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 seized.
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 child.
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 crashes.
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 save lives.
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:
- Graduated licensing, to help Tennessee's hundreds of thousands of new drivers adjust to their new responsibilities.
- Primary Seat Belt Rules, to increase seat belt usage and thus save hundreds of Tennesseeans' lives in coming years.
- Air Bags and Child Restraint Laws, to save the lives of our youngest citizens.
- Administrative License Revocation, to get drunk drivers off the road right now.
- Repeat Offender Legislation, to target the most dangerous drivers.
- Truck Driver Fatigue, to address one of our most serious highway safety problems, and
- A plan that can provide millions of dollars of needed revenue to state highway safety programs.
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 the driver.
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 drivers."
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 as well.
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 and immaturity.
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 belts.
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 effort.
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 costs.
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.
Air Bags and Child Restraint Laws
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
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 activity bus.
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 is revoked.
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 order.
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 offenders.
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 rare.
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;
- Dramatically increases the certainty of receiving a penalty for impaired driving;
- Enhances the effectiveness of zero tolerance laws;
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
- Is supported by the public.
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.
Repeat Offenders/Hardcore Drinking Drivers
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 this year.
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 the country.
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 sleep.
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 possible.
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 funding.
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 in 1994.
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 programs.
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.
Jim Hall's Speeches