State highway safety leaders from across the United States will be in Washington March 11-12 to meet with congressional staff and leaders of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), according to the National Association of Governors Highway Safety Representatives (NAGHSR). The purpose of the visit is to outline the states' highway safety priorities for reauthorization of TEA-21 (Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century).
In addition to restructuring federal highway transit and motor carrier programs, TEA-21 authorized $2.3 billion for highway safety grant programs for fiscal years 1998-2003. Members of NAGHSR are responsible for administering these funds in accordance with their governors' highway safety plan. Congress is expected to conduct oversight hearings on TEA-21 this year and then debate legislation early next year.
One of the main messages NAGHSR will communicate with Congress is that traffic safety enforcement programs are an important part of the homeland security effort. "While routine traffic stops have caught high-profile criminals like Timothy McVeigh, they also result in apprehending criminals every day," says Marsha Lembke, NAGHSR chairman. Lembke cites the "Click it or Ticket" mobilization enforcement effort last May in the Southeastern states as an example. During two weeks of intense enforcement of seat belt laws, over 1,400 fugitives were arrested. This was an added benefit to the countless lives that were saved as over 119,000 seatbelt citations were made and over 8,000 DUI offenders were netted.
Another example of the broad benefit of traffic safety enforcement occurred in the Washington DC area in February. Following a routine traffic stop, police found the driver had produced more than $3,700 in counterfeit money and was in possession of illicit drugs. After further investigation, the driver was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor relating to the money and 10 counts related to drug possession.
NAGHSR urges Congress to continue full funding of traffic safety programs and consider additional funding for law enforcement efforts when TEA-21 is reauthorized. "This is particularly important in states like mine (North Dakota) where the responsibility of defending dams and power plants has fallen solely on state and local police," Lembke says.
NAGHSR has produced a report detailing the states' experiences with TEA-21 and their suggestions for improvement. The key findings of the report will be discussed with NHTSA Administrator Jeff Runge as well as other agency leaders and congressional staff. The report, "Taking the Temperature of TEA- 21: An Evaluation and Prescription for Safety" is available online at www.statehighwaysafety.org..