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U.S. Senate Approves $109 Billion Highway & Auto Safety Bill

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U.S. Capitol Building, home to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

The U.S. Senate has approved a two-year, $109 billion bill that would pay for highway construction and boost auto safety regulations. After five weeks of negotiating, Senators approved the bill in a 74-22 vote. It now goes to the House for final passage, although, as Sunlen Miller reports for the ABC News blog The Note, “it is not yet clear if the House will take up the Senate-passed legislation or act on a similar version.” Current federal highway funding is set to expire on March 31.

As David Shepardson writes in The Detroit News, the Senate bill would dramatically raise maximum fines from about $17 million to $250 million for failing to recall vehicles according to the rules, and automakers are urging Congress to reject that provision.

The measure aims to reform the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But one House version of a highway bill has no new auto safety provisions.

Shepardson writes:

For more than a year, proponents have pushed Congress to strengthen auto safety measures in the wake of sudden acceleration concerns in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles. The provisions, sponsored by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., would not take effect until at least one year after passage.

The measure would also require automakers to prevent drivers from being able to see ‘broadcast television, movies, video games and other forms of similar visual entertainment’ while driving.

The Senate bill would raise fines for odometer fraud from a current maximum of $100,000 to up to $1 million, and would require a study of rental truck crashes. It would also work to improve the vehicle recall database and website; create a hotline so that mechanics, dealers, and auto workers could anonymously call to make complaints about vehicle safety problems; and require new pedal placement, push-button ignition, and electronic performance issue regulations.

According to an Associated Press article appearing on

Safety measures in the bill would toughen regulation of the long-distance and tour bus industries, including setting deadlines for government requirements that buses have seat belts, improved roof strength, anti-ejection window glazing and rollover crash avoidance systems. The bus industry transports about 750 million passengers a year, roughly the same as the domestic airline industry. […]

Advocates say it will save or create 2.8 million jobs.

A statement by U.S. Senator Michael F. Bennet of Colorado says the bill “will provide more certainty for transit projects in Colorado” and includes a provision Bennet “pushed for on behalf of rural communities, as well as one he secured to enhance sustainable growth around transit facilities.”

Bennet said: “This bill, which includes an improved rural transit formula, will give communities across the state the certainty they need to move ahead with their plans that meet their needs. Smart, longer-term planning and development will help ease traffic while connecting Coloradans to good schools, good jobs and one another.”

The statement on Bennet’s website says:

[One] provision [of the Senate bill], based on a bill Bennet introduced with  Senator Mark Warner of Virginia in February, addresses the demand for housing near transit in walkable, mixed-use communities, which is projected to double over the next 20 years, to 15.2 million households by 2030. It has the support of Transportation for America, Reconnecting America, Smart Growth America as well as numerous localities, local transit providers and advocacy groups.

Image by Rob Crawley, used under its Creative Commons license.


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