States could lose as much as $120 million in highway safety grants if Congress doesn’t change a planned bill to fund the government’s operations for six months.
The Governors Highway Safety Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving on Tuesday called on Congress to support highway safety grant programs. “Failure to do so will result in increased highway deaths and injuries,” the groups said.
Congress passed a new highway bill this year that streamlines the federal grant process that provides state funds for alcohol-impaired and distracted driving prevention, increased occupant protection, motorcycle safety, teen driving safety and data collection.
The funds allow police to do heavy enforcement over holiday weekends among other purposes.
Under the typical rules for a continuing resolution, new programs such as those authorized under the highway bill cannot be funded.
That means all but $25 million would be cut from the program.
“Unless the CR takes into account the revised priority highway safety grant program structure authorized under MAP-21, as much as $120 million in essential traffic safety grant funds could be denied to the states for six months,” the two organizations said in a statement. “The result would be devastating for highway safety, particularly at a time when preliminary government statistics show that highway fatalities are starting to increase after years of declines.”
Traffic deaths in the first three months of 2012 jumped 13.5 percent to the highest number since 2008.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported Friday that its estimate of traffic deaths for the first quarter of 2012 show a 13.5 percent increase.
The estimated increase is the second-largest quarterly jump in traffic deaths since NHTSA began tracking deaths on a quarterly basis in 1975 — and the biggest since 1979.
NHTSA said the rate of traffic deaths per 100 million miles of vehicle travel increased substantially. For the first three months of 2012, the rate increased significantly to 1.1 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled, up from 0.98 fatalities per 100 million miles in the same period last year.
NHTSA said it estimates 7,630 people died in vehicle crashes in the first three months, up from 6,720 in the first quarter of 2011.
The increase would end a steady decline in U.S. road deaths over the last seven years.
One reason may be the very warm winter across the country meant people drove more.
Traffic deaths in 2011 fell 1.7 percent — their lowest number since 1949.
NHTSA said in May that 32,310 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year, down 1.7 percent over the 32,885 road deaths in 2010.