Historical Highlights

The Highway Safety Act of 1966

August 18, 1966
The Highway Safety Act of 1966 Image, Pocket Congressional Directory, 1953 Serving 13-terms in the House of Representatives, George Fallon of Maryland chaired the Committee on Public Works for three Congresses.
On this date, the House of Representatives passed the Highway Safety Act of 1966 (S. 3052). In 1965, 49,000 Americans perished in motor vehicle accidents and experts projected steep future increases. Despite efforts made by previous federal and state laws, most states lacked sufficient safety rules, driver education, and enforcement programs. Only a handful of states had comprehensive highway safety programs, and most of these were severely underfunded. In his 1966 State of the Union Address, President Lyndon B. Johnson proposed the highway safety legislation to the Congress as well the formation of a new executive agency, the Department of Transportation. Public Works Chairman George Fallon of Maryland strongly supported the legislation and shepherded it through the House. According to the July 15, 1966, Public Works committee report on the House version of the bill (H.R. 13290), each state must “have a highway safety program approved by the [Secretary of Commerce] . . . in accordance with uniform standards to be approved by the Secretary.” The legislation addressed a broad range of issues: driver education; licensing; pedestrian performance; vehicle registration and inspection; traffic control; highway design and maintenance; accident prevention, investigation, and record keeping; and emergency services. Congress authorized funds for distribution to the states, with a requirement that each state implement a highway safety program by December 31, 1968, or suffer a 10 percent reduction in apportioned funds. The legislation enjoyed strong, bipartisan support in the House. Chairman Fallon stated, “[This bill] continues the policy of meaningful cooperation between the States and the Federal Government on highway matters. I believe it is a firm step forward in the struggle to save lives, and I urge that we act with strong voice to put it into effect.” The measure passed the House by a vote of 318-3, and President Johnson signed the Highway Safety Act into law on September 9, 1966.

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