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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Case fighting possible decrease in transportation money

By Mike Leidemann

Rep. Ed Case has joined a new coalition in Congress to fight proposed changes that could cost Hawai'i millions of dollars in federal transportation money.

The group includes 46 members from states that would be hurt by the changes, which would alter the formula for the way the government distributes the money, giving more to some states and less to others, including Hawai'i.

Although the debate over the formula isn't new, this year marks the first time that recipient states — those, like Hawai'i, that get more than they pay — have organized to fight for the money.

The opposition group, however, wants states to receive at least 95 cents back for each $1 they contributed to the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is largely financed through gasoline taxes collected in all the states. If that goes through, Hawai'i might lose up to $60 million in federal money during the next six years.

Drunk driver report

A new national report says that nearly half of repeat drunk drivers are returned to court for failing to comply with terms of their sentence.

The report, prepared by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, said the problem is one of the key obstacles in getting hard-core drunk drivers off the road. It suggests that state and local governments put more resources into probation and parole programs to help supervise drivers who have been found guilty by the courts.

Roads at fault

Another new national study suggests that thousands of lives lost in traffic accidents could be saved each year with a little help from local engineers.

While drivers get plenty of blame for the accidents for anything from running red lights to speeding to driving drunk, this study suggests that in many cases the roads themselves may be at fault.

If an intersection, for instance, has far more left-turn wrecks than average, maybe it needs a left-turn signal. If a rash of wrecks occurs in wet conditions, maybe the road needs a special asphalt to reduce hydroplaning.

Crash-data analysis done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed 16 percent of all U.S. traffic deaths from 1998 to 2001 were in wrecks in which police did not find the drivers at fault.

Driving distractions

The federal government is now asking states to collect information on what role cell phones or other driver distractions play in a crash.

The new guidelines are designed to standardize data collected at crash scenes. Until now, states have been free to decide when they'll collect information on different kinds of crashes. The new guidelines suggest that states collect data on all crashes involving death, personal injury or property damage of $1,000 or more.

The biggest change in the new guidelines is one that deals with driver distractions, one of the most controversial and prominent issues in highway safety these days.

The new guidelines ask investigators to record if the driver was distracted by a cell phone, pager, Palm Pilot, radio, passenger or something outside the vehicle. Collecting that data should help states make better decisions when they are deciding whether to limit the use of cell phones while driving.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.