The federal government has made available millions of dollars in highway safety grant funding to help states make safer roads. There’s just one problem: the grant requirements are so stringent that hardly any states qualify.

Since 2012, in fact, only five states were eligible for grant money intended to save lives through graduated licensing, ignition interlock and distracted driving prevention programs. Four states qualified for ignition interlock funds, while only a single state, Connecticut, qualified for the distracted driving grant. Not one state qualified for graduated licensing funds.

‘Little Impact’ on Traffic Safety

Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), describes the incentive grants as well-intentioned but unreasonably written.

“Incentives should encourage states to reach for the next level in improving their highway safety laws, not be so unreasonable that qualification is impossible,” Adkins told USA Today. “As written now, the incentives have had little to no impact at improving highway safety.”

Another factor that hampered state compliance was a short, two-year timeframe, according to Erik Strickland, government relations manager for the GHSA.

The three different highway safety grants became available with the passage of a law in 2012 that is being considered for reauthorization. Transportation officials are trying to rework the grants.

How Grant Money Could Help Keep Motorists Safe

Here’s what grant money is currently up for grabs, and what’s required by the feds for state compliance:

  • $13.6 million in graduated driver’s license (GDL) grant money based on a requirement that teens go through a minimum 6-month learners permit stage during which cellphone use is prohibited. During a six-month intermediate stage, teens face night driving restrictions and until age 18, drivers face limits on the number of passengers under 21 they can transport. Motor vehicle crashes are the top cause of U.S. teen deaths.
  • The ignition interlock grant program was developed with help from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and requires all first-time impaired driving offenders to use alcohol ignition interlocks for at least 30 days. Many states currently have similar laws in place that apply only to second- and third-time DUI offenders. Alcohol-impaired driving crashes produced 10,322 traffic fatalities in 2012—or 31 percent of all traffic fatalities for the year.
  • Grants that incentivize distracted driving programs require states to implement minimum fines that increase with additional offenses. State licensing exams would also address distracted driving. Connecticut received more than $2.3 million for meeting these qualifications. Distraction-affected crashes killed an estimated 3,328 motorists and injured 421,000 in 2012.

In 2012, according to the most recent federal highway data, 5,615,000 traffic accidents resulted in 33,562 fatalities and injured 2,362,000 people.

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