Governor’s Highway Safety Summit
October 29, 2002

Thank you Secretary Codell.  Before I begin my formal remarks this afternoon…I would like to take a few minutes to commend Secretary Codell and his management team for building what I believe is the most efficient and effective transportation department in the nation.  Under his leadership…the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has become a leader in environmental stewardship…which in layman’s terms means designing and constructing highway projects in a manner that protects both the unique environmental features of an area as well as the unique features of a local community.  The Transportation Cabinet has also set the national standard for innovative construction methods using the “get in, get out and stay out” philosophy that reduces the amount of time the traveling public is inconvenienced due to highway construction.  The complete highway closure method used on I-65 and I-64 in Louisville has set the standard for all other national highway construction projects.  These accomplishments have not gone unnoticed…Two weeks ago Secretary Codell was named President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.  He is taking over the leadership of this very influential organization during a critical time…the reauthorization of TEA-21. Secretary Codell…congratulations on your new position and placing Kentucky once again in a position of national prominence.

It was one year ago…at this same summit…in this same location…that I challenged each of you to devote your energy and attention to a piece of legislation that would save 75 lives a year in Kentucky without costing a cent.  I urged you to work with the legislature during the 2002 session to tighten up our existing secondary seat belt law by making it a primary offense to not buckle up when riding in a motor vehicle.

In an unprecedented manner we collectively pooled the resources of all entities engaged in highway safety to focus on getting a primary seat belt bill passed.  First…we formed the Governor’s Coalition for Highway Safety…a public/private group consisting of organizations with a vested interest in safe roadways.  Second…we pooled the resources of all state agencies devoted to highway safety…including the Kentucky State Police and the Transportation Cabinet.  In a historic measure, these two groups combined their efforts and allocated more resources towards seatbelt education than in any other time in the history of the state.  Between the fall of 2001 and spring of 2002 these two groups devoted over $1.4 million towards a comprehensive public awareness campaign that included radio, TV, billboards, and over 500 community seatbelt events.  This was two and a half times more dollars and resources devoted to seatbelt education than at any other point in our state’s history.

Third…we coordinated our state and federal resources during the legislative session to support the passage of a primary seatbelt bill.  The National Safety Council provided lobbyists…members of the Governor’s Coalition for Highway Safety attended every legislative meeting devoted to seatbelts and spoke on behalf of our efforts…our federal partners such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration provided us with critical educational materials…and most importantly, both the Transportation Cabinet and the Kentucky State Police joined forces to communicate the importance of this issue to legislators.

Our efforts during the 2002 legislative session to get a primary seatbelt bill passed were Herculean in nature.  They were unprecedented… and they were courageous… but they were not successful.  While we did make significant progress and moved the bill further along than most people expected…the truth of the matter is…that because we were unsuccessful in our efforts…75 people will die on our highways this year that could have been saved had this legislation passed.

I think that this is inexcusable.  As proponents of highway safety, how can each of us in this room live comfortably with this situation.  How can we honestly get up in the morning and look ourselves in the mirror and not feel like we have let the traveling public down?

Folks…we have a crisis on our hands.  Last year…despite the fact that we devoted 2 and half times more resources on seatbelt education… Kentucky’s seatbelt usage rate declined and highway fatalities increased.  In fact, we have experienced 756 fatalities this year on Kentucky’s roads…65 more than last year.  And if we continue at this rate we will loose more than 900 lives on our roads this year.

Let’s step back a few minutes and take a broader look at the issue.  Like many of you, I am an engineer and respect and use numbers to support a case.  Let’s examine the numbers…Last year over 42,000 individuals lost their lives on US highways…and another 3.1 million individuals were injured in car crashes.  These motor vehicle crashes cost our country over $230.6 billion dollars in medical, emergency service, property damage, household productivity, insurance, workplace and legal costs. 

If those number are not sobering enough here are a few more to ponder…Every 10 seconds in this country someone is injured in a motor vehicle crash….Every 13 minutes someone in this country is killed in a motor vehicle crash…And every hour someone in this country looses their life in a motor vehicle crash because they were not wearing a seat belt. What is even more startling about these numbers is that they impact our nation’s youth at a much higher rate than they do adults.  In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 4 and 33.

As I mentioned before…we have a crisis on our hands.  A crisis that is equal to having a fully loaded 747 airplane crash every other day in this country…with no survivors.  History has proven time and time again that the most effective weapon against this very real enemy is a primary seat belt law.  That is precisely why President Bush…the Federal Highway Administration…the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration…and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) have all made the passage of a primary seatbelt law the number one transportation priority for 2003.

President Bush has challenged transportation officials to increase the national seat belt usage rate from the current rate of 75% to 90% by 2008.  If this is accomplished it will save well over 6,600 lives a year.  Now in order to make this goal a reality all states must pass a primary seatbelt law.  Currently only 18 states have passed this life saving legislation and the facts speak for themselves.  In 2001, states with a primary seat belt law experienced an 80% seat belt usage rate vs. a 69% usage rate for states with only a secondary law.

I am asking you once again to join me in a united front against highway crashes.  It is our responsibility as safety experts to make the hard decisions necessary to improve the safety of our roadways.  Many of these decisions are hard because they require a change in the safety culture of our road.  And as you know, cultural changes do not happen overnight and they need to be attacked on several fronts.  Experience has proven time and time again, that changing people’s behavior requires a three-pronged approach that includes education, legislation and enforcement.  Well…we have certainly done the education.  As I mentioned before last year we spent 2 and half times more resources educating Kentuckians on the importance of wearing a seat belt…and despite this massive effort…seat belt usage did not improve…in fact it declined.  Kentucky now ties with Mississippi for having the 47th lowest seat belt usage rate in the US.  This is an embarrassment…particularly in light of the fact that the president of AASHTO and  the Chair of the National Governor’s Association come from Kentucky.   Other states are looking to us for leadership in the area of highway safety.  We cannot afford to let them down!

During the 2003 legislative session we will once again ask our elected officials to pass the primary seat belt law.  Those of you who were actively involved in the 2002 primary seatbelt fight know that this will not be an easy battle.  Many objections will be given but not one of them has any substance. 

But we need to get ready for the fight.  So let’s start immediately by reviewing the objections and sharpening our weapons of response.

Objection 1… “We need to spend more money and time on seat belt education, not on passing a tougher law.”  Fact:  Last year the state spend 2 and a half times more on seat belt education and seat belt usage rates declined.  Education cannot do the job alone.

Objection: “A primary seat belt law is an invasion of my personal rights.”  Fact: Driving is not a right…it is a privilege…and it is a privilege given only to law abiding citizens who follow the rules of the road.  Additionally, it is already the law in Kentucky to wear a seat belt.  The primary seat belt legislation will allow our law enforcement officers to enforce a law that is already in effect.

Objection…“A primary seatbelt law will just give law enforcement officers one more reason to pull a motorist over and an opportunity to abuse their power.”  Fact:  The states that have passed a primary seat belt law, experienced an increase in seat belt usage without any additional enforcement.  In each case, citizens voluntarily complied with the law.  Studies show that 30% of the population not currently wearing seatbelts will voluntarily buckle up if it is made a primary offense.  And given our current budget situation, I sincerely doubt if any of our law enforcement agencies will be able to add  additional enforcement activities. 

Objection… “ My people back home don’t support a primary seat belt law.”  Fact:  Research tells us that the majority of Kentuckians do support mandatory seat belt laws, in fact, many believe that it is already a primary offense.  Unfortunately, those of us in public service rarely hear from the silent majority.

Objection:  “I don’t hurt anyone but myself if I don’t wear a seat belt.”  Fact: Not wearing a seat belt affects all Kentuckians.  Last year traffic collisions cost the state over $5.4 billion.  Additionally, as a parent you set an example for your children.  Research shows that if a driver is unbuckled, children riding in the vehicle will also be unbuckled.

That is the entire range of objections we heard during the 2002 session…and as far as I’m concerned none of them are justifiable.  The primary seatbelt law does not require any money…and it is certainly not a partisan issue.  The real question at hand is…during the next legislative session will our lawmakers decide to be politicians or statesmen and stateswomen. To make things clear…let me define the difference between the two approaches.  Webster’s Dictionary defines politician as one who seeks personal or partisan gain, often by crafty or dishonest means.  A statesman or stateswoman is defined as a political leader who is above partisan politics.  A pure politician makes decisions based on the polls…and the party line.  The focus is very short-term in nature and generally concerned about re-election.  A statesman is able rise above partisan battles, grasp the bigger picture, and make the tough long-term decisions needed for the overall good of the citizens and the state, even when the decisions are unpopular.  Passing a primary seat belt law requires statesmanship.

The question we need to begin asking every Kentuckian and every legislator beginning today is…when are you going to take a united stand to stop the carnage that takes place on our highways every single day…every single hour…and every 13 minutes?   When are you going to give law enforcement officers the authority to do their jobs?   When are you going to have the courage to pass a law that will save 75 lives a year? 

There is much at stake in this battle.  Kentucky will be carefully scrutinized during the next year as it assumes a leadership role in many areas…particularly in transportation.  The choice is ours.  What will it be?