Road Warrior: Safety advocates contend highway bill won’t cut it

Safety first!

Perhaps Congress could grasp what that accident-prevention slogan meant when it was coined during the golden age of railroading in 1873, a time when the federal government managed to scrape by on a $290 million budget. But this week, safety priorities seem open to question as House and Senate conferees attempt to patch together a transportation budget that would spend a few hundred times more each year than it took old Ulysses S. Grant to run the whole country back then.

Road-safety advocates looked hard, but they couldn’t find much to suggest that safety was being placed first among this bill’s priorities.

Here are a few examples:

Authorizing teens to drive commercial big rigs from state to state. Fewer rest breaks for nearly all truckers. No jail time for carmakers who purposely avoid recalls for defective vehicles. Unrestricted private sales of used cars under recall. A ban on publishing truck- and bus-safety ratings. A minimal budget hike, at best, for safety regulation despite this year’s rising number of road deaths and last year’s record 64 million vehicle recalls for defective ignitions, air bags and other flaws.

No wonder Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, called the $325 billion measure “an atrocious assault on safety.”

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