NHTSA Funding Letter to Senate Appropriations Subcommittee

  • April 10, 2018
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

April 10, 2018

The Honorable Susan Collins, Chairman

The Honorable Jack Reed, Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations

United States Senate Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Collins and Ranking Member Reed:

Thank you for holding tomorrow’s important hearing to consider the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). As leaders of organizations committed to preventing motor vehicle crashes, saving lives, reducing injuries and containing costs, we write to express our strong support of a robust budget for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Funding for this important agency is critical, especially in light of recent sharp increases in fatalities and injuries. We respectfully ask that this letter be included in the hearing record.

Each day on average over 100 people are killed and 6,500 more are injured in motor vehicle crashes. In 2016 alone, there were 37,461 fatalities on our Nation’s roads – an increase of nearly six percent from the previous year. Further, these crashes impose a tremendous cost on society. Direct economic costs such as lost productivity, medical expenses and property damage amount to $242 billion. Moreover, when considering costs such as lost quality of life, the overall cost to society is a staggering $836 billion. Clearly, we can and must be doing more to mitigate this needless carnage on our roads.

As NHTSA plays a key role in advancing highway and auto safety, it is critical that they have the necessary resources to carry out their lifesaving mission. Yet, the agency is chronically underfunded. Currently, 95 percent of transportation-related fatalities, and 99 percent of transportation injuries, involve motor vehicles though NHTSA receives only one percent of the overall DOT budget. NHTSA is responsible for the safety of over 321 million Americans who drive or ride in more than 281 million registered motor vehicles. Furthermore, 2016 saw a record number of vehicles that were recalled for safety defects. NHTSA is also facing greater challenges that it must be equipped to address. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are being developed and deployed and NHTSA must be an effective cop on the beat to oversee the rollout of this new technology. Unfortunately, there have already been at least three confirmed fatalities in crashes involving vehicles operating with AV systems. The agency’s budget is grossly insufficient given the multitude of new responsibilities and duties the agency will have as AVs are deployed in mass, and they must be given additional funding and staff to be able to ensure their safety.

Given both these increasing duties and the mounting death and injury toll, we were disappointed to see that the FY 2019 funding request from U.S. DOT included significant reductions for NHTSA programs compared to previous years. The Administration has proposed reducing NHTSA’s vehicle safety program by $26 million (15 percent). The enforcement budget, which supports the agency’s efforts to identify safety recalls and ensure new vehicles meet federal safety standards, will be cut by $19.7 million (52.7 percent). In addition, the rulemaking budget will cut by $1.6 million (8.6 percent). We must address and reverse the recent upward trend of crash fatalities. Cutting the budget of the agency charged with ensuring road safety is not the way to do so.

As you begin to consider FY 2019 funding, our organizations are united in urging you to, at a minimum, provide funding levels that meet or exceed the authorizations in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act, Pub. L. 114-94). These funds support a myriad of initiatives including preventing distracted driving, enhance occupant protection, advance safety for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists, improve safety for novice and older drivers, and efforts to curb impaired driving. It is also necessary to maintain adequate funding for Operations and Research (O&R) which is responsible for important data collection and consumer information on vehicle safety defects. The alarming increases in deaths and injuries also bring a new urgency to Section 402 formula grants and Section 405 National Priority Safety Programs.

Laws and programs administered by NHTSA are responsible for saving at least 600,000 lives since 1975. The financial and staff resources are crucial to reverse the recent increase in motor vehicle crash deaths. As you consider FY 2019 appropriations for U.S. DOT and its agencies, we respectfully request that you maintain or increase the current funding levels that are integral to curtailing highway deaths and injuries.


Catherine Chase, President

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety


Deborah A.P. Hersman, President & CEO

National Safety Council


Joan Claybrook, Chair

Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and

Former Administrator, NHTSA


Jason Levine, Executive Director

Center for Auto Safety


Jack Gillis, Director of Public Affairs

Consumer Federation of America


Andrew McGuire, Executive Director

Trauma Foundation


cc: Members of the Committee on Appropriations