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Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters
Remarks as prepared for delivery
American Traffic Safety Services Association Annual Convention and Trade Show
February 27, 2005, Phoenix, Arizona

Building on Success

Norman Mineta, our Secretary of Transportation, has said, "Safety is the number one transportation priority of the Bush Administration and a job that is never finished." The Administration is committed to raising the bar on safety and the Federal Highway Administration is committed to the Secretary's goal of dramatically improving safety on our highways.

It requires attention all the time, every day. Looking at the big picture, we want to build on current success . . .

Recently, we had a new high and a new low. Both the low and the high were good things.

The high is an all-time record for safety belt use, 80 percent nationwide. Arizona is a national leader, topping 95 percent.

The low was the highway fatality rate per 100 million miles of travel. In 2003 it dropped to 1.48, the lowest level on record. We are saving lives.

President Bush and U.S. DOT have made safety the centerpiece of our reauthorization proposal. We hope to have a new multi-year highway law before the latest TEA-21 extension expires at the end of May.

Our proposal dramatically increases funds for infrastructure safety -- in fact it doubles total funding for highway safety programs. It creates a new safety "core" program that is performance-based and data-driven. The new core program would replace restrictive mandatory set-asides that tie the hands of state safety leaders. We hope the new program will allow states to direct safety dollars to their most urgent, LOCAL needs.

SAFETEA encourages states to develop and implement comprehensive strategic highway safety plans. Federal Highways is providing technical and financial support.

It supports collection of accurate, timely, and accessible data. Better data enable us to bring all stakeholders together to work on our common goal.

Work Zone Awareness

On Dec. 15, 1999 ATSSA and FHWA, along with AASHTO, signed a Memorandum of Understanding that created National Work Zone Awareness Week.

As you know, it is a national campaign to increase media and public awareness that over 1,000 people die annually in highway work zone related crashes, and that four out of five fatalities are drivers and passengers. Events are held in virtually every state across the country, and FHWA Division Offices participate in the observances, along with state DOTs and other partners in safety. There's even been international interest from England and Australia.

How are we doing? 2003, the last year with complete statistics, was a better year. According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), in 2003 there were 1,028 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes occurring in work zones. That's down from 1,186 fatalities in 2002.

It's 158 lives saved. We want to keep the downward trend going.

Last April I put on an orange vest and a hard hat and moved my desk to the Springfield interchange work zone in Northern Virginia. We got major media coverage as we reminded folks that when they drive though a work zone -- often dangerously fast -- they are going through the "office" of highway workers.

The Federal Highways website lists the top 10 tips for driving safely in work zones. The list is part of our effort to educate the public and I mention the tips often in interviews.

The Maryland State Highway Administration will host this year's National Work Zone Awareness Week kickoff event on Tuesday, April 5 at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge work zone. The focus is law enforcement in work zones and the theme is "SLOW DOWN OR PAY UP." As in previous years, the event is co-sponsored by FHWA, AASHTO, and ATSSA, with cooperation of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

As a result of a state patrol fatality in Tennessee, FHWA is developing a training course for law enforcement officers in work zones. A pilot presentation was given to patrol officers and a highway contractor in Tennessee two weeks ago. The course was well received and a final version will be ready this spring for national use.

Work Zone Safety & Mobility Final Rule

As Secretary Mineta said, safety is a job that is never done.

Reauthorization is important, to be sure, but we are taking action now. You are familiar with efforts such as greater training, full road closures, and ITS applications.

Plus, last September we published the Work Zone Safety & Mobility Final Rule. It broadens the previous regulation and provides a decision-making framework for options affecting work zone safety and mobility. We want to help states establish workable plans based on a proven foundation.

Retroreflectivity Proposed Rule

Traffic signs need to be visible at night to be effective. Signs that have a minimum level of retroreflectivity provide critical information to drivers.

While the MUTCD has promoted the concept of reflectorizing traffic signs since 1935, the proposed retroreflectivity rule is the first benchmark for evaluating the night visibility of traffic signs. Research has led to better nighttime brightness of sign sheeting materials. Costs have been remarkably reduced.

The proposed changes to the MUTCD to incorporate minimum levels were posted in the Federal Register for comment last July. At the February 1 closing date we had received 82 letters and 330 comments. We appreciate the comments submitted by ATSSA. A team in our Safety Office is deciding on the next steps to take -- we'll keep you posted.

Saving Lives

We expect significant new funding from reauthorization.

More travelers are buckling up.

We have new rules in place and in the pipeline.

Comprehensive state highway safety plans are coming on line.

It's good to feel successful.

But . . .

ATSSA and all of us at Federal Highways know there is no silver bullet to save lives.

We need contractor support, we need manufacturer and vendor support, we need state DOT support and most of all, we need continued great ATSSA leadership and support.

Thank you for all you've accomplished -- let's keep working together to save lives!


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