The push to make American roads safer has received its fair share of help from the federal government, thanks to a robust program of highway safety grants that allow state governments to bolster distracted-driving-prevention programs, install ignition interlocks on the vehicles of first-time drunk drivers and build a more comprehensive graduated licensing system for new drivers.
Oh, wait. That didn't happen? Only five states were eligible for grant money? What's going on here?
With the best intentions in mind, federal safety regulators and safety advocacy groups have gone so bananas in writing the requirements that states must fulfill to access millions in federal funding, in three different highway safety grants, that the overwhelming majority of states have simply passed on the money altogether.
"Incentives should encourage states to reach for the next level in improving their highway safety laws, not be so unreasonable that qualification is impossible," Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told USA Today. "As written now, the incentives have had little to no impact at improving highway safety."
The grants were hampered by stringent requirements and a short, two-year time frame, which the GHSA blames on their failure.
Of the three programs, the ignition interlock grant, which is backed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was the most "successful," with four states qualifying for funds. Other states, where ignition interlocks are required on the vehicles of second- and third-time drunk drivers, were excluded.
The distracted driving grant, meanwhile, saw one state take home $2.3 million in funds. Connecticut was able to institute a program that satisfied the requirements, delivering an increasing scale of fines for distracted driving while also including distracted driving sections of the state's licensing exams.
Not a single state, meanwhile, qualified for the graduated licensing program grant. That $13.6 million prize required that states, among other things, not issue a full, unrestricted license until a driver is 18 years of age.
While it's hard to argue with the fact that the measures dictated by the grants wouldn't improve overall road safety, as Adkins told USA Today, the grants "were a good idea that went wrong. They are so complicated and convoluted that in most cases it is extremely difficult to understand what a state needs to do to qualify."