WASHINGTON, D.C. --- The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has called on Congress to enhance the federal highway safety program as legislators begin work on the highway bill reauthorization.

GHSA also announced its support of an ambitious new highway safety initiative -- "Toward Zero Deaths: Every Life Counts" -- as a means for reinforcing the fact that highway deaths are preventable and tragically unnecessary.

The current highway authorization is set to expire at the end of September. Congress is expected to begin work on reauthorizing the nearly $300 billion program soon. GHSA members currently receive approximately $600 million annually in highway safety grant funding to address behavioral safety issues such as drunk driving, inadequate occupant protection, speeding and data improvement.

"Our proposal centers on a new and ambitious goal of Toward Zero Deaths," said GHSA Chairman Vernon F. Betkey Jr. "We know that highway deaths are preventable, and with an increase of attention and funding, the more than 40,000 families who lose loved ones each year in crashes can be spared this emotional and financial hardship. We are urging policy-makers to support funding for increased enforcement, new technologies and better tools for data collection to launch a new era in highway safety."

What follows are GHSA's recommendations to Congress:

  • Maintain a strong federal role in highway safety -- The United States was once a leader in highway safety but has now fallen to tenth in the world, according to the World Health Organization. To regain a leadership position, the federal government must provide strong leadership in addressing the problem of traffic crashes, fatalities and injuries.
  • Develop a national strategic highway safety plan --To regain the United States' role as a leader in highway safety, a national plan of action needs to be developed in coordination with state and local efforts. States already have strategic highway safety plans, and these successful efforts should be duplicated on the national level.
  • Emphasize performance-based planning -- States should be encouraged to use a minimum, standard set of performance measures in their planning processes and fund further efforts to identify and implement additional performance measures for the future.
  • Enhance funding for data improvements -- Funding for the section 408 data program should be increased to $100 million a year so the program can become the engine for state highway safety data improvements.
  • Streamline grant program administration -- Currently, GHSA members administer 10 different grant programs with varying deadlines and funding streams. Too much time is spent on program administration, taking away from critical implementation of highway safety programs.
  • Enhance flexibility -- States should be able to flex a portion of their behavioral funding between grant programs and should be able to pool their funding together. This will allow states to match their funding with what their data with what their data dictates.
  • Restructure incentive programs and encourage technological developments through incentives -- Technology should be encouraged through incentives, new grant programs should be created to address teen driving and speed-related crashes, and programs addressing seat belt use and motorcycle safety should be broadened.
  • Strengthen state programs through accountability, training and research -- Existing accountability requirements should be continued, and new training and research opportunities should be supported.
  • Strengthen state Strategic Highway Safety Plan requirements -- States should be required to regularly update their plans, there should be more flexibility in funding, and these plans should be easily accessible to the public.
  • Oppose new sanctions but maintain the 21-drinking age law -- In general, GHSA opposes new sanctions on states that do not enact certain laws. GHSA believes that incentives are a more appropriate method to encourage state action. GHSA will, however, strongly oppose any effort to repeal the 21-drinking law. This law has been tremendously successful and repeal would be a giant step backward for highway safety, GHSA said.