2L Chris Turner Testifies Before U.S. Senate Subcommittee

Photograph: Chris Turner TestimonyIt is unconventional for a law student to be a captain with the Kansas Highway Patrol  —especially one who recently celebrated 19 years with the organization. It is exceptional for a law student to be invited to testify before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee. But Washburn Law students are anything but typical, and second-year law student Chris Turner exemplifies the diversity of our student body.

In March, Turner testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, after being asked by South Dakota Senator John Thune (R), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in that subcommittee.  The hearing was titled “Continuing to Improve Truck Safety on our Nation’s Highways.”

Prior to giving his testimony, Turner consulted Washburn Law Dean Thomas Romig, who served four years as the 36th Judge Advocate General of the Army and retired from the military after 34 years of service, for any expert advice he could offer.

Turner was chosen to represent law enforcement throughout the United States who command state Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program(s) (MCSAP), more specifically for his past work nationally in MCSAP initiatives and his position as vice president with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). His testimony centered on how to improve commercial motor vehicle safety. 

“This was the most humbling experience of my life,” Turner said. “Being asked to testify triggered a complex set of events. The most challenging was getting up to speed on the issues involved; preparation for potential questions both friendly and possible political issues our alliance did not want to wade into; and writing and submitting my written testimony on such short notice.  Preparation for my oral testimony was daunting especially knowing how to answer possible landmine questions which could have severe backlash.

“The hearing topic was continuing to improve safety on our nation's highways.  Sadly, last year there were over 40,000 deaths — the highest number in over a decade on our highways.  The committee was largely responsible for the passage of Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and wanted to know what was working and what needed improvement.  There were numerous safety initiatives with the passage of the FAST Act in 2015 including an increase in states funding levels.  States had not seen increases to commensurate with the work we are required to perform in a substantial amount of time.”

There were three main concerns addressed in Turner’s testimony: stable, long-term funding; exemptions; and motorcoach safety. 

When it comes to funding, Turner stressed, “It is imperative that states be able to rely on long-term funding at levels that match their efforts. The consequences of not addressing this funding issue are grave and extend well beyond this single fiscal year.”

Turner also emphasized the importance of federal safety regulations, explaining the inconsistencies, challenges, and difficulties created by exemptions. “Exemptions have the potential to undermine safety and complicate enforcement,” he said. The exemption process is lengthy, and Turner shared CVSA’s recommendations to improve the process.

Lastly, he talked about challenges the enforcement community faces with motorcoach safety, including restrictions on when and where examiners can check a passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicle.

Turner wrapped up his testimony by saying, “We are committed to meeting our mission and ask only that we be given the tools we need to do it effectively.” He also thanked the subcommittee for the opportunity to speak.

Turner was among several highly regarded experts: The Honorable Christopher A. Hart, chairman, National Transportation Safety Board; Dr. Paul P. Jovanis, professor emeritus, Pennsylvania State University; chair, Transportation Research Board Committee; Jerry Moyes, chairman emeritus, Swift Transportation; and Adrian Lund, president, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Turner’s testimony can be found at: Turner Testimony.