Governors’ highway group raps transportation proposal

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Governors Highway Safety Association on Tuesday criticized the Obama administration’s proposal to set aside funding for pedestrian and bicycle safety efforts. Instead, it said, the federal government should ensure more funding to states for distracted driving and for teen licensing laws.

Last week, the U.S. Transportation Department unveiled its $478 billion proposal to fund surface transportation repairs over the next six years — months before funding is set to run out again — and called for significant auto safety reforms.

The Obama administration proposal would require states to use at least 30 percent of some highway safety grant funds on pedestrian and bicycle safety if the state’s pedestrian and bicycle fatalities exceed 5 percent of a state’s total crash deaths.

That brought criticism from the state highway directors.

The governors association said it was “disheartened that the proposal goes against a data-driven approach to highway safety by earmarking funds for pedestrian and bicycle safety programs. GHSA recognizes the importance of pedestrian and bicyclist safety. In fact, recently, states voluntarily began to include a bicycle performance measure in their annual highway safety plans. However, mandating that states address an issue flies in the face of the data-based approach to highway safety that has been extremely successful.”

The group said the government should do more to allow states to qualify for grants aimed at boosting states’ efforts against distracted driving, for ignition interlocks and for graduated drivers license incentives.

The GHSA said the administration’s proposed changes “do not go far enough to recognize the strong laws already in place in many states. For the past three fiscal years, only one state has qualified for the distracted driving incentive grant. And, no state has qualified for the graduated driver licensing grants” since the most recent major highway funding bill.

The Transportation Department and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn’t immediately comment.

The GHSA also questioned the administration’s use of some highway funds. “The pilot program for state notification that utilizes behavioral highway safety funds to address motor vehicle recalls is problematic. Only 2 percent of crashes are attributed to vehicle issues, while 94 percent are driver-behavior related.”

The Transportation Department proposed establishing a two-year pilot grant program to determine if state motor vehicle departments could notify owners of uncompleted recalls at the time they were registering or renewing vehicle registration. Some in Congress have called for mandatory repairs on recalled vehicles before owners could renew license plates.

The bill also would hike the maximum daily fine for failing to comply with NHTSA rules from $7,000 to $25,000.

The proposal would require all distributors and dealers to register tires at the time of purchase and notify manufacturers of low completion rates for tire recalls. Under current law, only tire dealers owned or controlled by a manufacturer are required to register tires with the manufacturer. It would require tire makers to provide free replacements for recalled tires for six months, rather than the current 60 days.

The proposal would allow states to set variable tolls — with higher prices at rush hour — to try to ease congestion, with the department’s approval. Last year’s bill raised the idea of ending the bar preventing tolling on currently free interstate highways.

It would help phase out traditional toll collectors, requiring that after Oct. 1, 2016, that new toll facilities on federal-aid highways would use only non-cash electronic technology for toll collection.