August 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Report: States haven't spent $530M in highway safety grants

Washington —A new report says states have failed to spend more than $530 million in federal highway safety grants since 2006.

The Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General said in a report released Monday that states haven’t spent $538.8 million in grants awarded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration between 2006 and 2012.

In six Midwest states, more than $65 million hasn’t been spent, including $25.6 million by Minnesota, accounting for 38 percent of the funds. Michigan ranked third with $8.3 million unspent, accounting for 12.5 percent of the funds awarded.

States get grant funds to have extra road patrols during congested holidays or to run ads warning drivers not to drink and drive or to wear seat belts. The grants go for auto safety research. Congress approved $1.3 billion for grants for 2013 and 2014.

The grants are aimed at reducing the number of crashes and deaths. More than 33,500 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2012, up 3.3 percent, while 2.36 million were injured in 5.6 million crashes. “Unused safety grant funds represent delayed or lost opportunities to fund programs that help reduce fatalities, injuries, and property damage,” the report said.

NHTSA’s Midwest office expressed frustration with the states’ slow use of grant program funds. It said states may have difficulty using the funding because of staffing limitations and workload issues. NHTSA’s regional offices monitor states use of grant funds.

The agency told the inspector general’s office that in September 2013 it created a new Office of Grants Management and Operations and plans to send new guidance to states on using highway safety grants and will conduct reviews by next year on state’s unused funds. NHTSA said it plans to develop a database by 2015 to track grant oversight findings. The agency is still considering which software system it will acquire.

States have three years to spend traffic crash grants, but don’t always meet the deadlines.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com