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Funding Reduced for Highway Safety Grants

The federal government has passed a bill detailing government spending budgets through the end of September, and the budget for highway safety related grants has been reduced by $50 million.

The US House approved a bill this week appropriating funds for government operations through September 30th, and nearly $50 million has been cut from highway safety grants. The bill, passed by a margin of 267 to 151, was introduced as a cost saving measure to help ease the federal debt, though many democratic representatives are concerned that the drop in funding could seriously harm road safety efforts throughout the remainder of the year.

For the next six months, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's budget for campaigns for seat belt usage, distracted driving, motorcycle safety, drunk driving and more will be diminished by almost 10%, from $550.3 million to just over $500 million. With this reduction in funding, the federal agency will have a harder time enacting awareness efforts, training seminars, and other safety promoting campaigns designed to reduce traffic accidents and save lives.

Three senators in particular, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Barbara Boxer of California, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota, were upset by the bill's passing, having delivered a letter to House Speaker John Boehner the day before voting took place. Each hold chair positions in key committees overseeing transportation. Rockefeller heads the Commerce committee, Boxer is the chair of the Environment and Public Works and Banking committee, and Johnson heads the Housing and Urban Affairs committees.

"We are very concerned that the full-year continuing resolution would harm efforts to improve the safety of our transportation system, " says the letter. "Funding reductions in the continuing resolution would also hamper efforts to enhance and enforce vital safety requirements for cars, trucks and buses."

Just last year, Congress passed a bill creating new grant programs to help fight some of the most common causes of fatal accidents on the road today, including impaired and distracted driving. With this subsequent reduction in funding, the NHTSA's ability to follow up on last year's efforts will be a challenge. Among other measures supported by grants, local law enforcement agencies were given funds to establish checkpoints around holiday weekends when accidents are the most common; with less to work with, such efforts could be minimized.

After a peak in 2005, traffic fatalities have dropped steadily over the past several years, despite a small increase last year. However, dangers like distracted and drowsy driving are becoming an increasingly common cause of accidents, and more work is needed to help enforce the idea that driving distracted or tired is dangerous. Multiple nationwide surveys have demonstrated that, despite understanding the potential risks, many drivers still use their cell phones and get behind the wheel when they are too tired to remain adequately attentive to the road.

To continue to raise awareness and affect road safety, the NHTSA will need to work smarter over the coming year, stretching their dollar more effectively to maintain their message without losing their nationwide scope. For a difference to be made however, drivers themselves will have to start responding to these awareness efforts, setting aside their phones and focusing on the task of driving. The effectiveness of a government funded safety campaign can only go as far as the public's change in behavior.

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