NMA Wrap Up of Legislative Activity, 3rd Quarter 2019

By October 20, 2019General Posts
July, August, and September were not nearly as active in resolving NMA-tracked legislation as in the second quarter, but October began with some very important events that will have positive ramifications for motorists well into the future.

Let’s start with the final disposition of bills in the third quarter:

Bills Opposed by the NMA that Failed or were Withdrawn (3)

Oregon Senate Bill 7

Lowers the existing legal limit for blood alcohol content from 0.08 to 0.05 when defining impaired driving (Utah remains the only state with a 0.05 BAC limit; all others are at 0.08 — for now)

Oregon Senate Bill 397

Allows DOT to lower designated speed on state highways outside of city limits without engineering and traffic investigation

Oregon Senate Bill 559

Expands authority to operate fixed photo radar systems in high crash corridors to all cities

Bills Opposed by the NMA that Passed (3)

Hawaii House Bill 757

Requires the Department of Transportation and the county transportation departments to adopt a Vision Zero policy

Illinois House Bill 331

Creates the Expressway Safety Act (by increasing the number of speed cameras on Cook County roads)

North Carolina Senate Bill 29

Move Over Law/Increase Penalties

View the NMA Bill Tracker to see active state and federal legislation of interest to motorists.

Now to the momentous events of late September and early October.

On October 5th, the NMA sponsored the inaugural “Keep L.A. Moving Conference” in Los Angeles, which included panel discussions about the future of America’s streets with leading voices around the country on transportation, economics, and safety. The conference focused on the potential impact of Vision Zero, Complete Streets, and road diets — restrictions of vehicular traffic by converting traffic lanes into little-used bicycle and scooter lanes while also implementing additional “calming” methods — to motorists and small businesses in Los Angeles and around the country.

Shelia Dunn and Gary Biller of the NMA participated. So did panelists such as:

  • Randal O’Toole, Cato Institute senior fellow, specializing in land-use and transportation issues
  • Mariya Frost, director of the Coles Center for Transportation at the Washington Policy Center
  • Thomas Rubin, public transit expert with more than 45 years of experience as a senior executive, auditor, and consultant for the industry
  • James Elliott Moore II, director of the Transportation Engineering program in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California
  • Wendell Cox, who served three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission under Mayor Tom Bradley
  • Lydia Grant, former Los Angeles city commissioner
  • John Russo, co-founder of Keep L.A. Moving and Keep The U.S. Moving
  • Matthew Schneider, co-founder of Keep The U.S. Moving
  • Christopher LeGras, journalist and California-licensed attorney whose coverage of transportation and infrastructure issues have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and similar publications
  • Jay Beeber, executive director (and NMA life member) of Safer Streets L.A.

Working relationships were formed, as were commitments to continue working together to halt the conversion of U.S. roads into Vision Zero “utopian” landscapes. The NMA sponsorship was well worth the investment. We’re already talking about the logistics of a second conference, perhaps in New York City where Mayor De Blasio and others have a special zeal for curtailing car traffic by imposing congestion pricing on top of reducing the number of travel lanes. All at the taxpayer cost of a budgeted $1.5 billion over ten years. The city is creating more traffic congestion and then implementing a scheme to profit from it. Nothing wrong with that, right?

After the conference, Beeber and Biller spent three days at the Sacramento Capitol Building calling on the legislative staffs of lawmakers who are members of the state Assembly and Senate transportation committees. Meetings were also held with advisers of the governor and speaker of the assembly. This was advance work against an anticipated bill to be introduced early next year that would abolish the statutory 85th percentile requirement for enforcing posted speed limits, a move that would allow cities to set their own arbitrarily low (and inconsistent) speed limits. It is anticipated that the bill will also enable municipalities to add speed cameras — currently prohibited in CA — to enforce the low speed limits.

A similar bill failed in an earlier session, but there is renewed vigor to try again. The reception to our message about the proven benefits of adhering to the 85th percentile speed limit rule, which was codified by the California legislature many years ago to protect drivers against predatory speed traps, was excellent. The real lobbying work, however, will begin when the anticipated bill is introduced in 2020.

Shortly after the Sacramento meetings, California Governor Newsom vetoed a statewide Complete Streets bill (SB 127) after both chambers had passed it. The bicyclist and pedestrian lobbies are howling mad, and their efforts to have government prioritize those modes of transportation over driving will no doubt intensify, making the battle to save traffic engineering protections, like the 85th percentile speed limit standard, even more difficult.

Finally, a set of objections filed by the NMA and others to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) regarding its draft of a recommended practice (RP) for the determination of yellow-light and red-clearance intervals culminated in a late August appeals hearing in Washington DC. ITE RPs are rarely codified into state law, but traffic engineers far and wide consider them to be the gold standard. That is why we were adamant with our objections that the yellow interval determination proposed in the RP for turning movements at signalized intersections violated the laws of physics and would set yellow timing levels too low. Short yellow intervals can open the door for split-second violations issued by ticket cameras.

The panel of experts hearing the appeals ruled in favor of the appellants and suggested the committee overhaul the RP accordingly. In addition to Joe Bahen, who appeared at the hearing on behalf of the NMA, appellants included Mats Järlström, Jay Beeber, and Brian Ceccarelli, all who made compelling technical arguments. The NMA and NMA Foundation supported the appearances of Järlström and Beeber with travel expense grants from the west coast. It was a group effort, one that protects drivers from potential predatory photo enforcement.

2020 is shaping up to be a critical year for motorists, as much (if not more so) than most in recent memory. The continuing push in California, and across the country, to enact Vision Zero/Complete Streets policies is designed to restrict and penalize driving. The NMA and NMA Foundation remain actively engaged in protecting the rights of the motoring public.

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