Thursday, September 19, 1996, the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hastily called hearing on highway safety issues. The MRF was notified on the previous Monday that this hearing would be taking place and was offered an opportunity to testify. Following that is Wayne Curtin's written statement for the record, which was submitted to the subcommittee.
Wayne gave verbal testimony before the subcommittee on September 19. Wayne's testimony addressed the "safety" and NHTSA related items that the MRF Board of Directors approved for an agenda during re-authorization of ISTEA, which will take place in 1997. As well, the MRF will be seeking a legislative resolution to the recent cropping up of efforts to ban motorcycles from public roads, mainly in cities.
Since this was not a safety related issue it is not addressed in this testimony, however, it and all of the items in Wayne's testimony have been raised with committee staff as items motorcyclists would like to see addressed in ISTEA re-authorization. The MRF believes, that though this is a full and aggressive legislative agenda, it is one that is obtainable by the motorcyclists' rights movement. ISTEA re-authorization will be a 4 to 6 year bill, so we need to work to accomplish this agenda in 1997, because, most likely, there will be no other major highway legislation to work with until after the beginning of the 21st Century.
Following the testimony is the agenda/witness list for the hearing.
Statement of Wayne T. Curtin, Vice President of Government Relations, Motorcycle Riders Foundation before the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, U.S. House of Representatives on September 19, 1996 regarding Highway Safety Programs
Chairman Petri, Mr. Rahall, and members of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to testify today on behalf of America's motorcyclists. My name is Wayne Curtin, and I am the vice president of government relations for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF). The MRF is a coalition of state motorcyclists' rights organizations and individual members representing over 275,000 motorcyclists.
Motorcycle Safety As A NHTSA 402 Program Priority
I appreciate this opportunity to provide your subcommittee with some thoughts the MRF has on highway safety programs administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The members of MRF are appreciative that in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991, motorcycle safety was retained as a national priority in the 402 safety program. We hope that in the ISTEA re-authorization motorcycle safety will again be designated as a national priority, with an emphasis placed on rider education and motorist awareness programs.
HOV Lanes, A Safer Riding Environment
Another provision of ISTEA that created a safer riding environment was the one that provided motorcycles access to HOV lanes. That action by Congress has resulted in all HOV lanes nationally being opened to motorcycles. When commuting, motorcyclists are safer in a riding environment that has less vehicles and is flowing smoothly than in congested stop and go traffic. HOV lane access provides motorcyclists with that safer commuting environment. For that, motorcyclists thank Congress.
Setting Accident Prevention As NHTSA's Priority
In looking at ISTEA re-authorization, I ask you to consider different priorities than NHTSA now has. It seems that in safety programs NHTSA has focused on occupant protection to the detriment of accident prevention. The MRF recommends a shift in NHTSA priorities to develop educational and other programs that will reduce accidents.
By focusing on occupant protection issues, instead of accident prevention, NHTSA is in effect adding to societal costs. By preventing accidents not only would both fatalities and injuries be reduced, but property damage to vehicles would also be reduced. Whereas, occupant protection programs do nothing to prevent or reduce property damage and still result in injuries and fatalities. Preventing accidents eliminates all three. The members of MRF believe that education to prevent accidents is a much better approach to reducing injuries and fatalities than mandating occupant protection equipment. NHTSA's obsession with occupant protection, at the expense of accident prevention, indicates NHTSA believes accidents are acceptable. It is MRF members' belief that accidents are preventable. We ask Congress to direct NHTSA to make accident prevention their number one priority and shift the majority of the resources dedicated to occupant protection to accident prevention.
Ending The Use Of Highway Trust Funds For Advocacy/Lobbying
Last year, this Congress voted to repeal the federal penalties on states without helmet laws, for which the MRF membership is extremely grateful. Many thought that the message from that action was clear: the issue of helmet laws was to be left up to the states. However, what we have seen since then is that NHTSA is increasing its activities to lobby for helmet laws in the states. The MRF feels this is an inappropriate use of tax dollars.
In the last thirty years, between studies and supporting lobbying efforts, NHTSA has spent millions of dollars on the helmet laws issue. And, what is the end result? Other than for a short period of time in the late 1960's and early 1970's, roughly half of the states have had helmet laws for all riders and half have not. Today, 25 states have mandatory all rider helmet laws and 25 do not. Is it really a good investment, especially in light of trying to balance the budget and reducing "big government," for NHTSA to continue to spend millions of dollars to lobby for an issue that the state legislatures have already made up their minds on? If the states did not pass helmet laws due to the Section 153 penalties, why should the federal government continue to throw money at the issue?
To prevent the future unwise use of Highway Trust Funds, the MRF requests you to consider including a provision in the ISTEA re-authorization that would prohibit the Department of Transportation, including NHTSA, from expending any funds authorized under ISTEA re-authorization on research and advocacy on the helmet laws issue. These funds are tax payer dollars and it is inappropriate for NHTSA to continue to spend these funds on lobbying activities. Has the federal government, in the last 30 years, not already spent enough money studying the issue of helmet laws? What else is there to know about the issue? In our opinion, these funds are being wasted because the state legislatures have been flooded with NHTSA funded studies and are already pretty clear about their positions on the helmet law issue.
To help you evaluate MRF's request to prohibit NHTSA from expending additional funds on the helmet law issue, the MRF suggests you order a GAO audit of how much the Department of Transportation has spent on the helmet law issue over the last thirty years. And, we would like to see this audit include a cost benefit analysis on how this money was used versus how it could have been used for accident prevention. We believe Congress will be aghast at the amount, especially in light of how those much needed resources could have been used in other educational and accident prevention activities.
In regards to future penalties or other sanctions on federal highway funds, the MRF requests you consider a provision in ISTEA re-authorization similar to the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. That Act contains a "point-of-order" for any provision imposing a an unfunded mandate. We believe that a similar "point-of-order" provision in ISTEA re-authorization to limit the withholding or transfer of highway funds in an attempt to coerce states into passing certain, supposedly safety, laws would be in the best interest of the American tax payer and the states. Highway funds are collected through user fees, which should be used to build and maintain highways, and trails whose motorized users also pay user fees, not to blackmail states into passing laws of questionable value.
Incentive Grant Programs
The MRF understands there is some discussion about including some type of safety program incentive grants in ISTEA re-authorization. The MRF has concerns about where the funding for incentive grants would come from, in light of the great needs for infrastructure maintenance and repair. But, if the funds are available, MRF would be supportive of incentive grants that were performance based on reducing accidents and fatalities. Those two items should be the only criteria. The MRF opposes incentive grants that would be issued based on states passing specific laws. That should not be the federal government's role. That role should be to set goals: reduce accidents and fatalities. How the states do that should be left to them and if they are successful in doing so they should be rewarded. Using federal funds as incentives for states to enact specific laws is nothing more than using federal funds for lobbying state legislatures. The MRF believes federal funds should not be used, in any form, for lobbying purposes, whether that be funding lobbying directly or providing a tool (i.e. grants) for organizations to lobby for specific laws. To reward states for developing their own programs that reduce accidents and fatalities is not lobbying, and the MRF supports that concept of incentive grants.
Intelligent Transportation System
Last, the MRF has concerns about the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). We have doubts that motorcycles are being fully considered in early development and design of ITS. For motorcyclists this is a vital safety issue. It is not that we want to see onboard computers designed for motorcycles; the enjoyment of riding a motorcycle is operating it and being in control. Our concern is that the detection systems being designed for other vehicles will not detect small motorcycles in the flow of traffic. If this concern is not addressed soon, the early operations of ITS equipped vehicles may not detect small motorcycles and result in motorcycles being hit by those vehicles. To ensure this does not happen, the MRF requests that ISTEA re-authorization include a provision that would insure all research on the Intelligent Transportation System consider the interaction of motorcycles in traffic and that all development and implementation of ITS include motorcycles as an integral part of that development and implementation.
On behalf of the MRF and America's motorcyclists I thank you for this opportunity to present our concerns and views as you consider safety issues in the development of the ISTEA re-authorization and map the future of America's transportation system into the 21st Century.
The Section 402, 403 and 410 Programs and Other Traffic Safety Issues
Thursday, September 19, 1996, 10:00 a.m.
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
Honorable Richardo Martinez, Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) accompanied by:
Mr. Dennis Judycki, Associate Administrator for Safety and System Application, FHwA
Mr. James Hudlend, Associate Administrator for Traffic Safety Programs, NHTSA
Ms. Adele Derby, Associate Administrator for State and Community Services,NHTSA
Ms. Elizabeth Baker, Chief, Traffic Safety Administration, Maryland State Highway Administration-- on behalf of the National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Reps.
Ms. Judith Lee Stone, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
Ms. Janese Stanbock, Occupational Therapist on behalf of the Brain Injury Association
Ms. Catherine Prescott, National President, MADD
M.Douglas Scott, Chief of Police, Fairfax County Virginia - on behalf of the International Association of Chiefs of Police
Mr. Giffen B. Nickol, Communications Coordinator, National Motorists Association
Mr. Wayne T. Curtin, Vice President, Government Relations, Motorcycle Riders Foundation
Mr. Roger Rathburn, President, Rathco Safety Supply and National President, American Traffic Safety Services Association
Ms. Kathy Hoffman, Executive Director, Roadway Safety Foundation
Mr. James Keaton, Manager, 3-M Company on behalf of the Institute of Transportation Engineers
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