Transportation's Failure To Withhold Federal Funds From Any State Not Implementing an Approved Highway Safety Program

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-11-22.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

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                                   ii .           COMPTROLLER     GENERAL   OF THE   U


                               Dear Mr. Rooney:

                               By letter dated July 19, 1971, you requested our Office to review
                        J the Secretary of Transportation's failure  to withhold Federal funds               ?'
                       J' from any State not implementing an approved highway
                                                                       /‘,      safety ___.program.
                                     The Highway Safety Act of 1966, as amended (23 U.S.C. 4021, directs
                               the Secretary to develop uniform standards to be followed by the States
                               to increase highway safety.    The act states that the Secretary shall
                               withhold certain apportionments after December 31, 1969, from any State
                               not implementing an approved highway safety program. (The term "State"
                               means any one of the 50 States, the District   of Columbia, or Puerto Rico.)
                               The withholding  provision applies to total apportionments made under the
                               highway safety program and to 10 percent of apportionments made under the
                               Federal-aid highway construction   program.

                                     The Secretary developed 16 standards related to highway safety (see
                               enclosure) and directed each State to prepare and submit for approval a
                               long-range comprehensive program setting forth the actions to be taken
                               to accomplish the objectives  of the standards.   Each State submitted a
                               program, and all were approved by December 31, 1969.

                                     *Although the Department of Transportation   found weaknesses in some
                               of the programs, it considered the total program of each State to be a
                               reasonable start toward achieving a significant     overall improvement in
                               highway safety.     The program weaknesses related to such things as the
                               need to provide for legislative     actions before certain highway safety
                               activities    could be implemented and the need to strengthen local govern-
                               ment participation    and involvement in highway safety.

                                     The Department informed the States that continued approval of their
                               programs would depend on the remedial actions taken to correct noted pro-
                               gram weaknesses, as well as on the satisfactory   implementation    of the
                               requirements of each safety standard.    A Department official   told us
                               that a subsequent policy decision was made not to disapprove any State's
                               program for failure  to satisfactorily  implement one or more specific
                               standards, as long as the State was making a reasonable effort toward
                               achieving overall improvement in highway safety.

                                     About a year after its approval of the States' safety programs,
                               the Department judged the progress made by each State in carrying out
                               its program. According to Department officials,    the judgments were
                               based on a consideration   of each State's approved program and on the
                               actions taken by the State to implement the safety standards.

                                                         50 TH ANNIVERSARY 1921- 1971

       The Department concluded that, overall,   each State was making
acceptable progress toward implementing a total highway safety pro-
gram as required by the 1966 act.     This conclusion was reached even
though the Department recognized that 19 of the States had not demon-
strated acceptable progress toward implementing one or more safety
standards covering such things as identification     and surveillance  of
accident locations,   periodic motor vehicle inspections,   or driver
licensing.    The Department plans to make another evaluation and issue
a report in December 1971.

        Department officials    informed us that, since the Department
considered the overall progress of each State to be acceptable, the
failure    of a State to make acceptable progress to implement one or
more of the individual       standards would not be grounds for withholding
Federal funds.       According to these officials,   the Department believes
that its concept of acceptable progress is in consonance with the
congressional     intent expressed in House Report 1799 (90th Cong., 2d
sess.) which states:

           "'Based on the testimony of the Department of
     Transportation   before the House, it is clearly under-
     stood by the Public Works Committee of both the Senate
     and the House of Representatives     that, because of the
     nature and scope of the highway safety program, its
     high eventual cost, and the limited Federal funds cur-
     rently available    for it, any State will be considered
     in compliance and therefore not subject to penalty if
     it is making reasonable progress on the program stand-
     ards.    Complete compliance with all standards, or even
     a major part of them would be out of the question, even
     by the extended penalty date of January 1, 1970, and the
     conferees expect that administration      of the Highway Safety
     Act will continue on this basis."       (Underscoring supplied.)

      Department officials    stated that they preferred to use persuasion
and direct negotiation     in influencing   a State's actions, rather than
the sanction of withholding      funds.   They stated that the fund-withholding
provision in the 1966 act would be invoked only when a State failed to
make acceptable progress toward overall implementation        of its approved
program or when it took an action which the Department considered to be
a step backward in regard to highway safety, such as repealing a State
law which provides for implementation       of a safety standard that has
direct safety payoffs in terms of reducing highway traffic         accidents,
deaths, injuries,   or property damage.


        Documents furnished by Department officials     showed that
consideration     had been given by the Department to withholding
Federal funds in the following     four cases involving    State leg-
islative    actions which the Department considered to be steps

     --The Connecticut Legislature     passed a bill   repealing   the
        motorcycle helmet law.

     --The Missouri Legislature   passed a bill authorizing a dual
        system of driver licensing under which certain persons,
        such as chauffeurs and truck drivers, would obtain two
        licenses and therefore could operate a motor vehicle even
        though one of the licenses was suspended.

     --The Oregon Legislature  eliminated     $1.5 million   in State
        support for driver education.

     --The Illinois   Legislature   failed to pass an implied-consent
        law under which acceptance of an operator's license or
        operation of a vehicle would imply advance consent to a
        chemical test for intoxication     when an operator was charged
        with driving while drunk.

      The State legislative    actions in the first    three cases were
overturned before it became necessary for the Department to invoke
the penalty provision of the 1966 act.       In the first    two cases the
respective State Governors vetoed the bills,        and in the third case
the legislature   reversed its position and restored the funds.        In
the fourth case the Department is allowing the State until June 1972
to enact implied-consent    legislation.

      We plan to make no further  distribution of this report unless
copies are specifically  requested , and then we shall make distri-
bution only after your agreement has been obtained or public
announcement has been made by you concerning the contents of the


           We trust   that the above information    will    serve your purpose.

                                             Sincerely     yours,

                                         Comptroller General
                                         of the United States


p     The Honorable Fred B. Rooney
&(    House of Representatives


                       HIGHWAY-SAFETY-RELATED AREAS
                           HAS ISSUED STANDARDS

        Standard area                                   Date promulgated

Periodic motor vehicle inspection                       June 27, 1967
Motor vehicle registration                                  do.
Motorcycle safety                                           do.
Driver education                                            do.
Driver licensing                                            do.
Codes and laws                                              do.
Traffic     courts                                          do.
Alcohol in relation        to highway safety                do.
Identification       and surveillance   of
   accident locations                                       do.
Traffic     records                                         do.
Emergency medical services                                  do.
Highway design, construction,         and maintenance       do.
Traffic     lighting   and control devices                  do.
Pedestrian safety                                       Nov. 2, 1968
Police traffic       services                               do.
Debris hazard control and cleanup                           do.