Rockefeller Remarks on Today's Surface Transportation Markup

December 14, 2011

Chairman RockefellerWASHINGTON, D.C.—Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that highway deaths fell to 32,885 for the year, the lowest level since 1949.  The record-breaking decline in traffic fatalities occurred even as American drivers traveled nearly 46 billion more miles during the year.  Importantly, our decade-long effort to reduce drunk driving is making a real impact.  Deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers dropped almost 5% in 2010.  Despite generally positive trends, all the news was not good.  DOT noted that fatalities rose among pedestrians, motorcycle riders, and large truck occupants. 

This Committee is responsible for transportation safety.  It is a priority for me.  Under the leadership of Senator Lautenberg, Senator Wicker, Senator Pryor and Senator Toomey, the Committee will consider legislation today that will enable us to make further progress in improving the safety of our nation’s transportation system.  

The four bills before us today include:  S. 1449, the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2011 (also known as Mariah’s Act); S. 1950, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act of 2011; S. 1952, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011; and S. 1953 the Research and Innovative Technology Administration Reauthorization Act of 2011.   

I share Senator Boxer’s strong desire to move a comprehensive surface transportation bill early next year.  She has worked incredibly hard on her legislation and has produced a bipartisan highway bill.  I am pleased that the Committee is moving its transportation safety bills today.  I hope that early next year, the Committee can adopt several additional bills relating to transportation infrastructure including my Infrastructure Fund bill.

I know that my colleagues would like to offer amendments and consider these bills so I will not discuss the agenda items in great detail, as we will soon deliberate them during their consideration.  Because Senators would like roll call votes on the bills, I must ask my colleagues to remain for the duration of the Executive Session so we can maintain the necessary quorum.  I know that we do not have complete agreement on these bills.  I know that this is unusual for a Commerce Committee mark-up, but these are important, and we need to move forward on these bills so the Senate can proceed to a comprehensive surface transportation bill.  

As with all of our transportation programs, a NHTSA reauthorization is long overdue.  Not only will this bill help create a long-term roadmap for the agency, but it is vitally important for vehicle and highway safety.  It calls on NHTSA to create programs to address emerging safety issues, such as distracted driving and safer teen driving.  

We also have a bill, S. 1950, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act, introduced by Senator Lautenberg that will make important improvements to large truck and bus safety by making certain only the safest motor carriers and drivers are able to enter the industry.  3,675 people were killed in crashes in the U.S. involving large trucks in 2010 alone—a nearly 9 percent increase over 2009.  This bill will provide critical improvements to the safety of large trucks and buses, therefore making our nation’s highways and American travelers more secure.

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011 would reauthorize the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Office of Hazardous Materials Safety, within the Department of Transportation.  

Finally, we will discuss S.1953, the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Act of 2011, which I am a cosponsor of.  This legislation would strengthen the DOT’s data collection abilities as well as improve its ability to promote innovative solutions to transportation problems.

And last but not least, we have nominations to approve today, for promotions in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corp.  With that, I will turn to Senator Hutchison.