oversight

Highway Safety: Factors Contributing to Traffic Crashes and NHTSA's Efforts to Address Them

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-05-22.

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

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Subcommittee on Competition,
                             Foreign Commerce, and Infrastructure,
                             Committee on Commerce, Science, and
                             Transportation, U.S. Senate
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 2:30 p.m. EDT,
Thursday, May 22, 2003       HIGHWAY SAFETY
                             Factors Contributing to
                             Traffic Crashes and
                             NHTSA’s Efforts to Address
                             Them
                             Statement of Peter Guerrero, Director
                             Physical Infrastructure Issues




GAO-03-730T
                                                May 22, 2003

                                                HIGHWAY SAFETY

                                                Factors Contributing to Traffic Crashes
Highlights of GAO-03-730T, a testimony          and NHTSA’s Efforts to Address Them
before the Subcommittee on Competition,
Foreign Commerce, and Infrastructure,
Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation, U.S. Senate




From 1975 through 2002, annual                  Most motor vehicle crashes have multiple causes. Experts and studies have
traffic fatalities decreased from               identified three categories of factors that contribute to crashes—human,
44,525 to 42,850, while the rate of             roadway environment, and vehicle factors. Human factors involve the
fatalities per 100 million vehicle              driver’s actions (speeding and violating traffic laws) or condition (effects of
miles traveled decreased from 3.35              alcohol or drugs, inattention, decision errors, and age). Roadway
to 1.51. However, decreases in
fatalities have leveled off since the
                                                environment factors include the design of the roadway, roadside hazards,
early 1990s, as shown in the figure.            and roadway conditions. Vehicle factors include any failures in the vehicle
Since 1999, the number of alcohol-              or its design. Human factors are generally seen as contributing most often to
related fatalities has risen.                   crashes, followed by roadway environment and vehicle factors.

In 1998, the Transportation Equity              To improve highway safety through programs that primarily address the
Act for the 21st Century funded a               human factors that contribute to traffic crashes and fatalities, about $2
series of highway safety programs.              billion was provided to states over the last 5 years for highway safety
These programs, administered by                 programs under the act. About $729 million was provided under Section 402,
the National Highway Traffic Safety             the core highway safety program, and about $936 million was provided
Administration (NHTSA), increased               through seven incentive programs, mainly for efforts to influence driver
funding to the states for activities
designed to encourage, among
                                                behavior. Another $361 million was transferred from state highway
other things, the use of seat belts             construction to state highway safety programs under provisions that
and to prevent drinking and                     penalized states for not complying with federal requirements for passing
driving. The states establish                   laws to reduce drinking and driving.
highway safety goals and initiate
projects to help reach those goals.             GAO found that NHTSA’s oversight of state highway programs could be
NHTSA provides advice, training,                improved. NHTSA regional offices have made inconsistent use of
and technical assistance to states              management reviews and improvement plans because NHTSA’s guidance
and can use management reviews                  does not specify when to use them. As a result, some states do not have
and improvement plans as tools to               improvement plans, even though their alcohol-related fatality rates have
help monitor and strengthen the                 increased or their seat-belt usage rates have declined. Without improvement
states’ performance.
                                                plans NHTSA may not fully realize its goals in working with the states to
This testimony discusses (1) the                improve highway safety. GAO recommended in an April 2003 report that
factors that contribute to motor                NHTSA provide guidance to its regional offices on when it is appropriate to
vehicle crashes, (2) the funds                  use these oversight tools. NHTSA is taking steps to improve this guidance.
provided to the states for highway
safety programs, and (3) NHTSA’s                Traffic Fatality Statistics, 1975-2002
oversight of state programs. The
testimony is primarily based on
two GAO reports on these topics
issued in March and April 2003.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-730T.

To view the product, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Peter Guerrero
at (202) 512-2834 or guerrerop@gao.gov.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

We appreciate the opportunity to testify today on the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) efforts to reduce traffic fatalities.
Highway safety is a major concern for the country, given that over 1.2
million people have died on our roadways over the last 25 years. Since
1982, about 40 percent of traffic deaths were from alcohol-related crashes,
and traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 4
through 33. In addition to the tragic loss of life, the economic cost of
fatalities and injuries from crashes totaled almost $231 billion in 2000
alone, according to NHTSA.

In 1998, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21)
funded a series of highway safety programs, administered by NHTSA, that
increased funding to the states to encourage, among other things, the use
of seat belts and child passenger seats and to prevent drinking and driving.
The states implement these programs by establishing highway safety goals
and initiating projects to help reach those goals. NHTSA reviews state
goals and provides oversight of state highway safety programs.

My testimony today will discuss (1) the factors that contribute to traffic
crashes, (2) the funds provided to the states for highway safety programs,
and (3) NHTSA’s guidance provided to states and oversight of the states’
programs. My statement is primarily based on two GAO reports on these
topics. The first report, issued in March 2003, dealt with the factors that
contribute to traffic crashes.1 To complete that effort, we analyzed three
Department of Transportation databases that contained data through 2001;
interviewed experts from academia, insurance organizations, and
advocacy groups as well as department officials; and reviewed studies on
various aspects of motor vehicle crashes. In addition, NHTSA recently
released 2002 traffic fatality data, which we used to update some of the
information contained in the March 2003 report for this testimony. The
second report, issued in April 2003, provides information on TEA-21 funds
for state highway safety programs, how the states have used those funds,
and NHTSA’s oversight of the state programs.2 To conduct this effort, we


1
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Highway Safety: Research Continues on a Variety of
Factors That Contribute to Motor Vehicle Crashes, GAO-03-436 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 31,
2003).
2
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Highway Safety: Better Guidance Could Improve
Oversight of State Highway Safety Programs, GAO-03-474 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 21,
2003).



Page 1                                                                    GAO-03-730T
    visited six states and the NHTSA regional offices responsible for them to
    determine how these states were using the funds and to review NHTSA’s
    oversight of the states’ programs. We also interviewed representatives of
    the Governors Highway Safety Association and other highway safety
    organizations to obtain their perspectives.

    In summary:

•   Many factors combine to produce circumstances that may lead to a motor
    vehicle crash—there is rarely a single cause of such an event. Experts and
    studies have identified three categories of factors that contribute to
    crashes—human factors, roadway environment factors, and vehicle
    factors. Human factors involve the actions taken by or the condition of the
    driver of the automobile, including speeding, being affected by alcohol or
    drugs, violating traffic laws, inattention, decision errors, and age. Roadway
    environment factors include the design of the roadway, roadside hazards,
    and roadway conditions. Vehicle factors include any failures that may
    exist in the automobile or design of the vehicle. Human factors are
    generally seen as the most prevalent contributing factor of crashes,
    followed by roadway environment and vehicle factors.

•   About $2 billion has been provided to states over the last 5 years for
    highway safety programs under TEA-21. About $729 million went to the
    core highway safety program, Section 402, to carry out traffic safety
    programs designed to influence drivers’ behavior in such areas as seat belt
    use, drinking and driving, and speeding. About $936 million went to seven
    incentive programs also designed to encourage state efforts to improve
    seat-belt use, reduce drinking and driving, and contribute to improvement
    of state highway safety data. In addition, about $361 million was
    transferred from state highway construction to state highway safety
    programs under provisions that penalized states that had not complied
    with federal requirements for passing repeat offender or open container
    laws to reduce drinking and driving.

•   To oversee state highway safety programs, NHTSA focuses on providing
    advice, training, and technical assistance to the states, which are
    responsible for setting and achieving highway safety goals. NHTSA can
    also use management reviews and improvement plans as tools to help
    ensure that the states are operating within guidelines and achieving the
    desired results. However, we found that NHTSA’s regional offices have
    made inconsistent use of management reviews and improvement plans
    because NHTSA’s guidance to the regional offices does not specify when
    to use them. As a result, some states do not have improvement plans, even
    though their alcohol-related fatality rates have increased or their seat-belt


    Page 2                                                           GAO-03-730T
                                           usage rates have declined. We recommended that NHTSA provide
                                           guidance to its regional offices on when it is appropriate to use these
                                           oversight tools. NHTSA is taking steps to improve this guidance.


                                           Since 1975, progress has been made in reducing the number of fatalities on
Background                                 our nation’s roads, but in recent years improvement has slowed and some
                                           downward trends have been reversed. As figure 1 shows, from 1975
                                           through 2002, annual fatalities decreased from 44,525 to 42,850, or by
                                           about 4 percent. Annual fatalities reached a low of 39,250 in 1992 and have
                                           been edging up since then. During the same period, the fatality rate per 100
                                           million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), a common method of measurement,
                                           dropped from 3.35 in 1975 to 1.51 in 2002, or by about 55 percent. Since
                                           1992, the decline in the fatality rate has slowed.

Figure 1: Fatality Statistics, 1975▬2002




                                           Alcohol-related crashes account for a large portion of traffic fatalities.3
                                           Between 1982, when NHTSA began tracking alcohol-related fatalities, and
                                           2002, about 430,000 people died in alcohol-related crashes. In 1982,


                                           3
                                            Alcohol-related fatalities represent crash victims killed with blood alcohol concentrations
                                           at any level above 0.01. At this concentration, a person’s blood contains 1 one-hundredth of
                                           1 percent alcohol.



                                           Page 3                                                                        GAO-03-730T
NHTSA reported 26,173 alcohol-related deaths, representing 59.6 percent
of all traffic fatalities. Alcohol-related fatalities declined to 39.7 percent of
all traffic fatalities in 1999, but rose to 17,970—41.9 percent of fatalities—
in 2002. (See fig. 2.)

Figure 2: Number of Alcohol-Related Fatalities, 1982▬2002




As figure 3 shows, alcohol-related fatality rates declined steadily (except
in 1986) from 1982 through 1997. However, there has been almost no
further decline in rates since 1997, when the rate was 0.65 fatalities per 100
million VMT. In 2002, the rate was 0.64 fatalities per 100 million VMT.




Page 4                                                               GAO-03-730T
                       Figure 3: Rate of Alcohol-Related Fatalities, 1982▬2002




                       The overall decline in fatalities over the past quarter century is attributable
                       to many actions. For example, during this period, a number of
                       countermeasures were developed and installed in new vehicles. Seat belts
                       and air bags are credited with saving thousands of lives—seat-belt use
                       rates have grown from about 14 percent in 1983 to over 75 percent
                       nationwide today. In addition, federal and state programs have resulted in
                       improvement in some areas. For example, increased enforcement and
                       greater public awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving have,
                       according to NHTSA officials, reduced the incidence of casual drinkers
                       becoming traffic fatalities. Having made improvements in reducing casual
                       drinking and driving, NHTSA and the states are now faced with more
                       challenging problems such as alcohol dependency, which has hindered
                       progress in reducing alcohol-related fatalities.


                       Multiple factors typically combine to produce circumstances that lead to a
A Variety of Factors   motor vehicle crash—there is rarely a single cause for such an event. For
Contribute to Motor    example, it would be challenging to identify a single cause of a crash that
                       occurred on a narrow, curvy, icy road when an inexperienced driver, who
Vehicle Crashes        had been drinking, adjusted the radio or talked on a cell phone.

                       In examining the causes of motor vehicle crashes, a number of experts and
                       studies identified three categories of factors that contribute to crashes:

                       Page 5                                                            GAO-03-730T
human factors, roadway environment factors, and vehicle factors. Human
factors involve the actions taken by or the condition of the driver of the
automobile, including speeding, being affected by alcohol or drugs,
violating traffic laws, inattention, decision errors, and age. Roadway
environment factors include the design of the roadway, roadside hazards,
and roadway conditions. Vehicle factors include any failures that may
exist in the automobile or design of the vehicle. Human factors are
generally seen as the most prevalent contributing factor of crashes,
followed by roadway environment and vehicle factors.

Two examples of human factors that have a significant impact on traffic
crashes are speeding and alcohol. Speeding—driving either faster than the
posted speed limit or faster than conditions would safely dictate—
contributes to traffic crashes. Speeding reduces a driver’s ability to steer
safely around curves or objects in the roadway, extends the distance
necessary to stop a vehicle, and increases the distance a vehicle travels
when a driver reacts to a dangerous situation. According to our analysis of
NHTSA’s databases, from 1997 through 2001, speeding was identified as a
contributing factor in about 30 percent of all fatal crashes, and almost
64,000 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes. From 1997 through
2001, 36 percent of male drivers and 24 percent of female drivers 16 to 20
years old who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of
the crash. The percentage of speeding-related fatal crashes decreases as
drivers age.4 (See fig. 4.)




4
 It should be noted that in addition to the factors discussed, other elements, such as nonuse
of seat belts or other occupant-protection measures, might have affected the number of
fatalities.



Page 6                                                                        GAO-03-730T
Figure 4: Speeding Drivers in Fatal Crashes, by Age and Gender, 1997▬2001




Alcohol consumption is a significant human factor that contributes to
many motor vehicle crashes. It is illegal in every state and the District of
Columbia to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of, impaired
by, or with a specific level of alcohol or drugs in the blood. Only
Massachusetts lacks a law that defines the specific concentration of blood
alcohol at which it becomes illegal to drive.5 As of January 2003, 17 states
had set the standard at 0.10 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
(the level at which a person’s blood contains 1/10th of 1 percent alcohol)
and the remaining states had set the standard at 0.08 percent BAC.6
NHTSA recently reported that in 2002, 42 percent of all fatal crashes were
alcohol-related, and nearly 18,000 people died in alcohol-related crashes.
BACs of 0.08 or greater were reported for about 87 percent of the alcohol-



5
 BAC of 0.08 percent in Massachusetts is evidence of alcohol impairment, but it is not
illegal per se.
6
 Louisiana, New York, and Tennessee have 0.08 percent BAC laws that will be effective
during the latter half of 2003.



Page 7                                                                       GAO-03-730T
related fatalities in 2002. According to our analysis of NHTSA data, from
1997 through 2001, for each age category, more male than female drivers
were involved in fatal alcohol-related crashes (see fig. 5).

Figure 5: Drivers in Alcohol-Related Fatal Crashes, by Age and Gender, 1997▬2001




There is also a strong relationship between a driver’s age and the
likelihood of being involved in a crash. While age, in itself, would not be
the cause of the crash, some of the characteristics displayed at various
ages can lead to a higher probability of being involved in traffic crashes.
Younger drivers’ crash rates are disproportionately higher mainly because
of a risky driving style combined with driving inexperience. Older drivers
also pose greater risks; fatal crash rates are higher for the elderly than for
all but the youngest drivers.

The roadway environment—factors that are external to the driver and the
vehicle that increase the risk of a crash—is generally considered the
second most prevalent contributing factor of crashes. Roadway
environment factors that contribute to, or are associated with, crashes
include the design of the roadway, including features such as medians,
narrow lanes, a lack of shoulders, curves, access points, or intersections;


Page 8                                                              GAO-03-730T
roadside hazards or features adjacent to the road that vehicles can crash
into such as poles, trees, or embankments; and roadway conditions (for
example, rain, ice, snow, or fog). However, the contribution of these
factors to crashes is difficult to quantify. NHTSA’s crash databases contain
limited data on roadway design features at the crash location or
immediately preceding the crash location. In addition, the significance of
adverse weather, including both slippery roads and reductions in driver
visibility, is not fully understood because there are no measurements (for
example, VMTs under adverse weather conditions) available to compare
crash rates under various conditions.

Vehicle factors can also contribute to crashes through vehicle-related
failures and vehicle design characteristics (attributes that may increase
the likelihood of being involved in certain types of crashes). While such
recent events as the number of crashes involving tire separations have
highlighted the importance of vehicle factors, data and studies generally
show, and experts believe, that vehicle factors contribute less often to
crashes than do human or roadway environment factors. For example, our
analysis of NHTSA’s data found that of the 32 million crashes from 1997
through 2001, there were about 778,000 crashes (about 2 percent) in which
police determined that a specific vehicle-related failure might have
contributed to the crash. In addition, vehicle design has been shown to
affect handling in particular types of maneuvers. For example, high-
performance sports cars have very different handling characteristics from
those of sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Recent changes in the composition
of the nation’s vehicle fleet, in part attributable to the purchase of many
SUVs, have resulted in an overall shift toward vehicles with a higher center
of gravity (more top-heavy), which can roll over more easily than some
other vehicles. Rollover crashes are particularly serious because they are
more likely to result in fatalities. Our analysis of NHTSA’s 2001 data shows
that passenger cars were the vehicle type least likely to roll over in a
crash; passenger cars rolled over in about 2 percent of all crashes and
rolled over nearly 16 percent of the time in fatal crashes. In comparison,
our analysis shows that SUVs were over three times more likely to roll
over in a crash than were passenger cars; that is, they rolled over in almost
6 percent of all crashes. In addition, the proportion of SUVs that rolled
over in fatal crashes was over twice as high as the proportion of passenger
cars. NHTSA recently reported that in 2002, fatalities in rollover crashes
involving SUVs and pickup trucks accounted for 53 percent of the increase
in traffic deaths.




Page 9                                                          GAO-03-730T
                       About $2 billion was provided to the states for highway safety programs
Funding for State      for the first 5 years under TEA-21, from fiscal years 1998 through 2002.
Highway Safety         TEA-21 funded state programs three ways as follows:
Programs Has Grown •   The core Section 402 State and Community Safety Grants Program
                       provided $729 million for behavioral highway safety programs.

                   •   Seven incentive programs provided $936 million. States could use funds
                       from two of the incentive programs for behavioral highway safety
                       programs or highway construction. As a result, states allocated about $789
                       million of the incentive funds to behavioral programs and $147 million to
                       highway construction.

                   •   Two penalty transfer programs provided $361 million in fiscal years 2001
                       and 2002. These programs transferred funds from highway construction to
                       highway safety programs to penalize states for not complying with federal
                       requirements for passing laws prohibiting open alcoholic beverage
                       containers in cars and establishing specific penalties for people convicted
                       of repeat drinking and driving offenses.7 States could use both penalty
                       transfers for either alcohol-related behavioral safety programs or highway
                       safety construction projects. As a result, states allocated about $113
                       million of the transfer funds to behavioral programs and $248 million
                       (about 66 percent) to highway construction programs to eliminate road
                       safety hazards.

                       Funding for states’ behavioral safety programs nearly doubled from fiscal
                       year 1998 through fiscal year 2001. (See fig. 6.)




                       7
                        TEA-21, as amended through the TEA-21 Restoration Act, established these two penalty
                       provisions.



                       Page 10                                                                   GAO-03-730T
Figure 6: NHTSA Highway Safety Funding to States, Fiscal Years 1998▬2002




Funding for the core Section 402 State and Community Grants Program
has been fairly level, in constant dollars, since 1991. Four major program
categories account for most of the states’ use of the $729 million in Section
402 State and Community Grants funds provided between 1998 and 2002:
police traffic services, impaired driving, seat belts, and community safety
programs. Combined, these four categories account for about 72 percent
of the grant funds. Figure 7 shows how the states used their Section 402
State and Community Grants funds during the first 5 years covered by
TEA-21.




Page 11                                                            GAO-03-730T
Figure 7: Uses of State and Community Grants Funds, Fiscal Years 1998▬2002




                                          Other
                                                            P o lice traffic services
                                          16.2%
                                                                       22.1%

                       Traffic reco rds
                            5.9%

                        P lanning and
                       administratio n
                             6.0%                                Impaired driving
                                                                      15.4%

                          Co mmunity safety
                              pro grams                 Seat belts
                                19.9%                     14.5%




Note: “Other” includes roadway safety, pedestrian safety, emergency medical services, speed control,
driver education, motorcycle safety, school bus safety, and paid advertising to support Section 402
programs.


The seven incentive programs under TEA-21 also provide funds to
encourage greater seat belt use, implement programs or requirements to
reduce drinking and driving, and contribute to the improvement of state
highway safety data. The funding available for these programs grew from
$83.5 million in 1998 to $257.2 million in 2002. While most of these funds
were used for funding additional behavioral safety programs, the act
provided that two programs, the 0.08 percent Blood Alcohol Concentration
Incentive (Section 163) and the Seat-belt Use Incentive (Section 157)
programs, could be used for any highway purpose—highway construction,
construction that remedied safety concerns, or behavioral safety
programs. Appendix I contains additional information on the seven
incentive programs.

Under the penalty transfer programs, the states that did not adopt either
the open container or the repeat offender requirements were required to


Page 12                                                                                 GAO-03-730T
transfer a specified percentage of their federal highway construction funds
to their Section 402 State and Community Grants Program.8 During fiscal
years 2001 and 2002, the first 2 years that funds have been transferred, 34
states were subject to one or both of the penalty provisions, and about
$361 million was transferred from these states’ Federal-Aid Highway
Program funding. (See fig. 8.) States can keep transferred funds in their
Section 402 State and Community Grants program when they are to be
used to support behavioral programs designed to reduce drunk driving or
the states can allocate any portion of the transferred funds to highway
safety construction projects to eliminate road safety hazards. States varied
greatly in their decisions on how to use these funds, from allocating 100
percent of the funds to highway safety construction projects to allocating
100 percent of the funds to highway safety behavioral projects. Overall, the
states allocated about 69 percent to highway safety construction projects
under the Hazard Elimination Program, and 31 percent went to highway
safety behavioral projects. Twenty-eight of the 34 states with transferred
funds allocated a majority to highway safety construction activities under
the Hazard Elimination Program.




8
 For the first 2 years, the transfer penalty was 1.5 percent of the funds apportioned to the
state’s National Highway System, Surface Transportation Program, and Interstate
Maintenance funding, for each penalty. This amount rose to 3 percent for each penalty in
October 2002.



Page 13                                                                        GAO-03-730T
Figure 8: States Transferring Funds under Open Container and Repeat Offender Provisions, October 1, 2002




                                        Note: Alaska (both transfers), District of Columbia (no transfers), Hawaii (no transfers), and Puerto
                                        Rico (both transfers) are not shown.




                                        NHTSA’s 10 regional offices focus on providing advice, training, and
NHTSA Has Not Made                      technical assistance to the states, which are responsible for setting and
Consistent Use of                       achieving their highway safety goals. In addition, among other things,
                                        NHTSA uses management reviews and improvement plans as oversight
Oversight Tools                         tools to help it ensure that states’ programs are operating within guidelines
                                        and are achieving desired results.

                                        Page 14                                                                                 GAO-03-730T
NHTSA regions can conduct management reviews to help improve and
enhance the financial and operational management of the state programs.
In conducting these reviews, a team of NHTSA regional staff visit the state
and examine such items as its organization and staffing, program
management, financial management, and selected programs like impaired
driving, occupant protection, public information and education, and
outreach. The team’s report comments on the state activities and may
make recommendations for improvement. For example, in some
management reviews we examined, NHTSA regions found instances of
inadequate monitoring of subgrantees, a lack of coordination in state
alcohol program planning, costs incurred after a grant was over, and
improper cash advances by a state to subgrantees. However, NHTSA has
no written guidance on when to perform management reviews. We found
that the management reviews were not being conducted consistently. For
example, in the six NHTSA regions we visited, we found goals of
conducting state management reviews every 2 years, on no set schedule,
or only when requested by a state.

Improvement plans are another tool for providing states oversight and
guidance. According to program regulations, if a NHTSA regional office
finds that a state is not making progress toward meeting its highway safety
goals, NHTSA and the state are to develop an improvement plan to address
the shortcomings. For example, NHTSA, working with one state,
developed an improvement plan that identified specific actions that
NHTSA and the state would accomplish to improve alcohol-related
highway safety. The plan included such actions as implementing a judicial
education program, requiring all police officers working on impaired
driving enforcement to be adequately trained in field sobriety testing, and
developing a statewide system for tracking driving-while-intoxicated
violations.

NHTSA regional offices have made limited and inconsistent use of
improvement plans. Since 1998, only seven improvement plans have been
developed. In addition, we found that the highway safety performance of a
number of states that were not operating under improvement plans was
worse than the performance of other states that were operating under
such plans. For example, we compared the performance of the three states
that had developed improvement plans for alcohol-related problems with
the performance of all other states. We found that for seven states, the rate
of alcohol-related fatalities increased from 1997 through 2001 and their
alcohol-related fatality rates exceeded the national rate in 2001. Only one
of these seven states was on an improvement plan. Furthermore, for one
state that was not on an improvement plan, the alcohol-related fatality rate

Page 15                                                         GAO-03-730T
                  grew by over 40 percent from 1997 through 2001 and for 2001 was about
                  double the national average. The limited and inconsistent use of
                  improvement plans is due to a lack of specificity in the criteria for
                  requiring such plans.

                  To ensure more consistent use of management reviews and improvement
                  plans, we recommended in our report that NHTSA provide more specific
                  guidance to the regional offices on when it is appropriate to use these
                  oversight tools. In commenting on a draft of the report, NHTSA officials
                  said they agreed with the recommendations and had begun taking action
                  to develop criteria and guidance to field offices on the use of management
                  reviews and improvement plans.


                  Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased
                  to answer any questions that you or members of the Subcommittee may
                  have.


                  For further information on this testimony, please contact Peter Guerrero
Contact and       at (202) 512-2834 or guerrerop@gao.gov. Richard Calhoon, Robert
Acknowledgments   Ciszewski, Glenn C. Fischer, Bonnie Pignatiello Leer, and Glen
                  Trochelman made key contributions to this testimony.




                  Page 16                                                        GAO-03-730T
Appendix I: Highway Safety Incentive Grant
Programs


 Incentive category                Title of incentive               Description of incentive
 Seat belt/ occupant               Section 157 Safety Incentive     Creates incentive grants to states to improve seat belt use rates. A state
 protection incentives             Grants for the Use of Seat Belts may use these funds for any highway safety or construction program. The
                                                                    act authorized $500 million over 5 years.
                                   Section 157 Safety Innovative    Provides that unallocated Section 157 incentive funds be allocated to
                                   Grants for Increasing Seat-Belt states to carry out innovative projects to improve seat belt use.
                                   Use Rates
                                   Section 405 Occupant             Creates an incentive grant program to increase seat belt and child safety
                                   Protection Incentive Grant       seat use. A state may use these funds only to implement occupant
                                                                    protection programs. The act authorized $68 million over 5 years.
                                   Section 2003(b) Child            Creates a program designed to prevent deaths and injuries to children,
                                   Passenger Protection             educate the public on child restraints, and train safety personnel on child
                                   Education Grants                 restraint use. The act authorized $15 million over 2 years for Section
                                                                    2003(b). However, the Congress appropriated funds to support the
                                                                    program for 2 additional years.
 Alcohol incentives                Section 163 Safety Incentives    Provides grants to states that have enacted and are enforcing laws stating
                                   to Prevent the Operation of      that a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher while
                                   Motor Vehicles by Intoxicated    operating a motor vehicle has committed a per se driving-while-intoxicated
                                   Persons                          offense. A state may use these funds for any highway safety or
                                                                    construction program. The act provides $500 million over 6 years for the
                                                                    program.
                                   Section 410 Alcohol Impaired     Revises an existing incentive program and provides grants to states that
                                   Driving Countermeasures          adopt or demonstrate specified programs, or to states that meet
                                                                    performance criteria showing reductions in fatalities involving alcohol-
                                                                    impaired drivers. The act provides $219.5 million over 6 years, which is to
                                                                    be used for alcohol-impaired driving programs.
 Data incentives                   Section 411 State Highway        Provides incentive grants to states to improve the timeliness, accuracy,
                                   Safety Data Improvements         completeness, uniformity, and accessibility of highway safety data. The act
                                                                    provides $32 million over 4 years.
Source: GAO presentation of NHTSA data.




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