Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-IL) from today’s hearing entitled, “Examining Equity in Transportation Safety Enforcement”:
Thank you, Chair Norton, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today to discuss how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration programs contribute to highway safety and implications related to equity.
NHTSA has an important mission – to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes. To help achieve this, NHTSA administers grant programs focused on deterring unsafe driver behaviors (such as speeding, and impaired or distracted driving), which are the primary causes of traffic crashes. States receive the NHTSA grants and are charged with overseeing their state safety program.
NHTSA has had a successful record and has significantly reduced highway fatalities since their high in 1973. 2019 traffic fatalities totaled 36,096 – which represents a 34 percent reduction from the 1973 fatality level, and a 2 percent reduction from the 2018 level. Sadly, based on preliminary data, NHTSA estimates that traffic fatalities increased in the first nine months of 2020.
NHTSA and the Governors Highway Safety Association point to increases in risky driving and reductions in enforcement activities – just another deadly consequence from the COVID-19 pandemic.
NHTSA’s research indicates that enforcement is one of the most effective ways to combat unsafe driving behavior. Because of this, states have decided to expend some NHTSA grant funds on law enforcement activities.
I believe that eliminating enforcement activities would lead to more dangerous roads and more fatalities and injuries.
However, I also know that, since the early days of this great nation, this country has had problems with discrimination and bias based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and socio-economic factors. Look no further than my own district and the site of the 1908 Springfield Race Riot. For the past few years, I’ve been working to designate the site as a National Historic Monument within the National Park Service. While more work needs to be done on that front, we were successful last year in getting the Trump Administration to include it in the Department of Interior’s African American Civil Rights Network.
We need to acknowledge that these issues continue to exist and must learn from past mistakes so that we can address them in a holistic way.
I recognize that NHTSA has no authority or jurisdiction over law enforcement or law enforcement activities. But the House Judiciary Committee has been focusing on this since 1997 when it passed H.R. 118, the Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act of 1998. This is important work, and I pledge to assist the Judiciary Committee in examining these issues.
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