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A Visit to THP's Traffic Incident Management Training Facility

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Captain Bighem and Brian Ursino at THP Academy - September 2015             
While in Nashville attending the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) Conference, AAMVA Director of Law Enforcement Brian Ursino visited the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Academy to check out their Traffic Incident Management (TIM) training facility. This one-of-a-kind facility was built in partnership between THP and Tennessee DOT, and includes a four lane road, a two lane road and an intersection. It also provides other environmental factors first responders may encounter at the scene of a crash including cable barriers, guardrails, construction zone apparatus, and more. Crashed cars, and a forklift on-site to stage various crash scenarios, are used to conduct TIM training for law enforcement, fire department/EMS, tow operators, DOT personnel and other responders. The goal of TIM is to employ a planned and coordinated multi-disciplinary process to detect, respond to, and clear traffic incidents so that traffic flow may be restored as safely and quickly as possible. (To learn more, watch the Tennessee DOT video, "Nation's First Traffic Incident Management Training Facility.")

By Brian Ursino, Director of Law Enforcement, AAMVA


In the Heart of Washington

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Arlington Memorial Bridge, built in 1932 between the Lincoln Memorial and the Lee House in Arlington Cemetery to symbolize the reunification of the North and South after the Civil War and the strength of the nation, has become infamously emblematic of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure in the past week. Federal lawmakers representing the Washington Capitol area met at the iconic structure on Monday to discuss the need for major repairs to it and other similar projects around the country. 
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), ranking member of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) hosted a press conference at Memorial Bridge to address its need for emergency repairs and federal funding for more complete upkeep. Arlington Memorial Bridge is federally owned, so it only receives federal funding for maintenance and repairs.  On March 28th, the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration announced that certain lanes would be closed on the bridge and weight restrictions would be placed on larger vehicles. Inspectors discovered the bridge’s internal structure was corroding faster than previously forecasted, so work will begin in July and take six to nine months to complete emergency repairs. The entire bridge awaits full funding from the federal government to complete all necessary repairs.
At the press conference, Congresswoman Norton introduced a piece of sponsored legislation to address infrastructure projects on federal lands, the "Save Our National Parks Transportation Act." The bill would give the NPS $460 million a year for the federal lands transportation program for FY 2016 to 2021. The Act also creates the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Transportation Project program, funded at $150 million for FY 2016 to 2021. 

The impacts of the Memorial Bridge closures and weight limits will resonate throughout the region affecting hundreds of thousands federal workers’ commutes into downtown DC, including Metro bus riders. The emergency repairs demonstrate vividly a capitol region which is not immune from the effects of crumbling infrastructure. If passed, Norton’s bill will relieve empty coffers for federal projects, but it will not completely overhaul the entire system. Simultaneously, Congress continues to pass short-term investment extensions for the Highway Trust Fund and remains divided on how to finance a longer-term bill, leaving states looking for quick fixes on how to work with close to depleted funds this summer season. 

by Andrew Guevara, Coordinator, AAMVA Government Affairs

AIIPA Gets Sneak Preview of AAMVA's Ignition Interlock Program Best Practices

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Ursino at AIIPA Conference - May 2015

AAMVA Director of Law Enforcement Brian Ursino attended the annual conference of the Association of Ignition Interlock Program Administrators (AIIPA) in St. Paul, Minnesota, May 17 – 20, 2015.  During the conference, Brian presented the progress on the AAMVA Ignition Interlock Program Best Practices Guide scheduled for publication this August. His presentation included a sneak preview of the law enforcement training video that will be part of the Ignition Interlock Best Practices Guide deliverable.  While in St. Paul, Brian also met with Minnesota Department of Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Mark Dunaski to discuss multiple operational facets of DPS and Minnesota Highway Patrol operations and AAMVA member services. 

Who’s Driving That Rig?

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Caesar’s, Bellagio, MGM Grand. All familiar sights while in Las Vegas, but you may also spot a new peculiar sight on the city’s highways –a self-driving tractor trailer. The Nevada DMV issued the state’s first license plate to an autonomous commercial motor vehicle last week. Daimler’s “Freightliner Inspiration” is a driverless version of its traditional 18-wheeler with many of the same capabilities of the company’s Mercedes-Benz autonomous passenger vehicles.

In June 2011, Nevada Governor Mark Sandoval signed into law A.B. 511 to authorize the use of autonomous vehicles. Nevada became the first jurisdiction in the United States to allow the use of autonomous vehicles on public roads. Four other jurisdictions have followed suit – California, Florida, the District of Columbia, and Michigan. The Nevada DMV is responsible for setting safety and performance standards, and a human being must be present when the vehicle is being tested.

While the “Freightliner Inspiration” is autonomous, it does have a limited scope of operational capabilities. Beyond needing to have a human inside the vehicle at all times, the motor carrier uses cameras, radars, and scanners to determine how it functions during operation. It can only operate on highways, must keep a safe distance away from other vehicles, and alert the human when conditions are too dangerous for it to maintain autonomy. Essentially, the “Freightliner Inspiration” is an autonomous vehicle with training wheels on it right now as thousands of more miles are logged to fully test its offerings.

Proponents argue the public benefits of a fully autonomous semi-truck are numerous. They cite a vast number of studies that have shown that autonomous vehicles will reduce the number of crashes resulting from human error. In addition to public safety, the importance to the trucking industry in United States commerce is immense. Other freight heavy jurisdictions can look to the path Nevada is trailblazing for the trucking industry and how it is preparing legislatively, administratively and operationally for a new dawn in commercial transportation. 

by Andrew Guevara, Coordinator, AAMVA Government Affairs

A Visit with California DMV and Highway Patrol

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Sheila Prior (Regional Director, Member Support) and Brian Ursino (Director, Law Enforcement) traveled to Sacramento for a jurisdiction visit and meetings with the California DMV and Highway Patrol, March 9-10, 2015. Their visit included meeting with Commissioner Joe Farrow, Deputy Commissioner Mona Prieto (also a member of the AAMVA Law Enforcement Standing Committee) and other senior staff on Monday afternoon; and attending Director Jean Shiomoto’s executive staff meeting Tuesday morning. While Sheila attended additional DMV meetings Tuesday afternoon, Brian toured the CHP Academy and shared best practice ideas from his experiences with other state police/highway patrol academies.  

  CHP Commissioners (thumb)

Jean Schiomoto (thumb) 

CHP Memorial

 By Brian Ursino, AAMVA, Director, Law Enforcement  

Ursino Reflects on His Term on MADD's Board of Directors

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Brian Ursino and Debbie Weir - Nov 2014
On November 13 – 15, 2014, Brian Ursino, AAMVA Director of Law Enforcement, attended his final Board of Directors meeting for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) at their headquarters  in Dallas, Texas. Brian served as a Director on the MADD Board for six years and was a member of many MADD subcommittees. Brian says the highlight of his six year term was chairing the MADD Strategic Planning Committee which recently developed MADD’s new 10-year strategic plan, which is being published in January 2015.  Pictured with Brian is MADD CEO, Debbie Weir. 

By Brian Ursino, Director, Law Enforcement

Taking Over and Taking Control

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A week has passed since Republicans took over Congress, and the discussions have run the gamut on what policy priorities the new legislature will tackle first and hardest – from the possibility of an Affordable Care Act repeal to Congressional reaction to a potential executive order regarding undocumented immigrants. One of the less discussed aspects of the takeover has been the possible implications for transportation, which directly affects jurisdiction members and the AAMVA community. 

At first glance, a takeover of both houses seems like a simple path to push a long-term highway reauthorization bill through the pipeline. The current measure only funds transportation projects through May 2015 and will then leave states with anxiety in anticipation of the summer construction season, as it did this year. This has been one of many short-term reauthorizations that does not address the ubiquitous near-insolvent Highway Trust Fund. With a one-sided Congress, Republican leadership will most likely want to start fresh with new legislation instead of working with formerly drafted bills. This may stymie the process a bit, precipitating Republican risk of a potential downfall if they don’t act quickly and without too many roadblocks. As most exit polls show, voters were tired of the stalemate in Washington and wanted to see a change in the makeup on the Hill, reflecting the shift in national elections. By not delivering, Republicans risk the same discontent affecting their control in the next round of elections in 2016.

Tax reform is another issue that will impact transportation and infrastructure projects. The Republicans prioritized job and economic stimulation as one of their highest goals this election. They have pointed to reforming the corporate tax structure to accomplish this. Both the president and GOP leadership have laid-out plans this year (e.g., the President’s Budget and Dave Camp’s tax reform bill) incorporating corporate tax reform as a way to establish new funding for infrastructure spending through the Highway Trust Fund. By placing corporate tax reform as a priority, the new Republican-controlled Congress may also be looking indirectly at a methods to fund Highway Trust Fund. 

Even if the Republicans maneuver bills easily through both chambers without delay, they still have to face the veto power of the White House. To be taken seriously, they will need to focus on compromise and tackling issues of importance. Transportation infrastructure and tax reform fit into this domain. If the Republicans decide to push repealing the Affordable Care Act or even entertain something as ludicrous as impeachment of the president, they risk causing irreparable damage to their newfound leadership. Concentrating on less contentious issues will leave them with less resistance, a positive legacy over the long haul, and perhaps a solution to the never-ending epic narrative of what to do with the Highway Trust Fund. 

by Andrew Guevara, Coordinator, Government Affairs, AAMVA

Ursino Visits Missouri Highway Patrol

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Ursino visits Missouri 2014 bAAMVA Director of Law Enforcement Brian Ursino visited the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Friday and Saturday, September 19 & 20. On Friday, Brian met the entire morning with MSHP Colonel Ron Replogle who is also on the AAMVA International Board of Directors, and members of his executive staff. They were joined-mid morning by partners from the Immigration & Customs Enforcement including Kim Preski, Supervisory Special Agent (St. Louis, MO); Mark Fox – Supervisory Special Agent (Kansas City, MO); and Keith Fowler, National Program Manager, ICE HQ-Homeland Security Investigations (pictured to the right). After having lunch at the MSHP Academy, Colonel Replogle invited Director Ursino to make some remarks to the MSHP recruits of the 99th trooper basic training class. The afternoon was spent touring various MSHP operations including Aviation and Water Enforcement operations. 

On Saturday, Director Ursino and Colonel Replogle participated in the security operations for the University of Missouri Football game. Security is handled by many partners, but primarily the MSHP and the University of Missouri Police Department. They even spent some time on the sidelines with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (pictured below). 

Ursino visits Missouri 2014 a

Georgia DDS Executives Take Team Building to Extreme

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Georgia DDS Executives take Team Building to Extreme

By Brian Ursino, AAMVA Director of Law Enforcement

Jeff Ursino and Tom McMurry on the Muir Snowfield

Rob Mikell, Georgia DDS Commissioner, and several of his executive team traveled to Washington State to participate in an extreme team building exercise. Led by Brian Ursino, AAMVA Director of Law Enforcement, and his younger brother Jeff Ursino, team Georgia successfully ascended to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier (elevation 10,188’).  Brian has summited Mount Rainier (elevation 14,410’) twice, and climbed to Camp Muir more than a dozen times. And Jeff Ursino has 10 Rainier summits to his credit – so team Georgia was in good hands.  

In addition to Commissioner Mikell, team Georgia consisted of Spencer Moore, Deputy Director; Tom McMurry, Chief Information Officer; and George Theobald, Director, Program Management Office. Bob Griffin, Chief Financial Officer also made the trip, but did not climb (but provided logistical support).

Thursday, July 24, 2014

After awaking at sea level in Seattle and consuming a hearty breakfast, we made the more than 3-hour drive to Paradise inside Mount Rainier National Park (elevation 5,400’). Our weather fears were realized however, with steady rain with significant wind gusts. After registering at the Ranger Station we decided to wait an hour in the Visitors Center to see if the weather would improve.

Jeff Ursino, Tom McMurry; Spencer Moore, George Thoebald, Rob Mikell, and Brian Ursino in the parking lot before starting climb

Reaching a go or no-go point at 1:00 p.m., the Ursino guide service (Brian and Jeff) decided to go even though the rain had only subsided slightly. We “geared-up” (each of the Georgia team members carried 30-pound packs, while their guides carried 40 to 45 pound packs respectively). We then set out and trudged for just over an hour to Alta Vista (elevation 6,000’), where we took a 10-minute water, energy bar, and photo break.

After another hour-plus, the group took our second break at Pebble Creek (elevation 7,200’). From Pebble Creek the weather turned from bad to worse just as the team traversed onto the Muir snowfield. As we ascended above the freezing level, the rain turned to sleet and the team was fully engulfed in cloud layer reducing visibility, at times, to less than 25-feet.

After another hour-plus, the group stopped for its third and final break on a rock formation that protrudes at the edge of the Muir snowfield at an elevation of 8,800’. Finally, after breaking the 9,000’ level, the team broke through and above the clouds (and the accompanying bad weather). Suddenly the views were majestic and those on the team that were struggling had their spirits lifted. But with the day quickly ending and getting camp built before sundown a concern, the group began to spread with Brian leading the faster and stronger climbers. Jeff took up the rear to ensure the safety of the entire Georgia contingent.

Finally, Brian, followed very closely by Rob Mikell, made it to Camp Muir (elevation 10,188’). We scouted a place in the snow that could accommodate two tents (3-men per tent), and began shoveling tent platforms into the sloped snow.  As other team members trickled into camp, all pitched in to set-up tents, properly stow or stake gear (so it wouldn’t blow away overnight), and made our way into our tents for the night. In all, we climbed for approximately 5 ½ hours to reach Camp Muir.

Rob Mikell after breaking through the clouds at 9,000' with Mount Adams in the background;

Even though the climb started at 5,400’, we awoke at sea level so our bodies had to adjust to an altitude gain of 10,188 feet in fewer than 12-hours.

Although not equipped with a thermometer as we usually are, we estimate the overnight temperature dropped to between zero and 10 degrees.

Jeff Ursino sitting between the two tents that housed all six of us at Camp Muir

Friday, July 25, 2014

After a short night of less than fitful sleep, we ate breakfast (oatmeal and/or energy bars), then emerged from our tents. As bad as the weather was the day of our ascent, on day two we were greeted by blue skies and majestic views of Mount Hood, Oregon; Mount Adams, and Mount Saint Helens (both in Washington and all of which Brian and Jeff have summited). 

The team at Camp Muir just before descending on day two

Although going down is without question easier than going up, it still is not “easy”. There were only a few opportunities to safely glissade (sliding down the Muir snowfield on our butts); so the descent was mostly constant pounding on the legs as they absorbed the jarring weight of our backpacks.

But the team made it down safely. Once leaving the national park, we found a greasy hamburger joint. While eating, I made a toast to the group congratulating them on their accomplishment with my favorite mountaineering proverb … “the body soon forgets the pain, but never the accomplishment”.

Here are some of my favorite snippets overheard from members of team Georgia:

“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life”

“This is unbelievable … We’re looking down at the clouds and we’re standing on earth!” and

“I’ll never eat another energy bar again”

But my best observation was of how well team Georgia truly functioned as a team. There was no “rank” but a lot of comradery. There was self-motivation, determination and drive as well encouragement and positive reinforcement. There was great communication, even when it sometimes required a bark. There was a single goal accomplished by a team of many. 

The team back in the parking lot with Mount Rainier in the background (notice previous day's parking lot photo and the difference in weather one day can make).

Keeping Up with the Upstarts

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Ride-sharing upstarts such as Uber and Lyft have been appearing in cities across the country over the past few years, and the trend does not seem to be relenting any time soon. These companies allow passengers to connect with a driver for hire through an app to arrange a ride. All payment transactions occur with credit cards through the application. Uber operates in 140 cities nationwide and 40 countries globally; Lyft operates in 60 cities nationwide.

While the popularity of these services are exploding, these new forms of transportation networks are being scrutinized by regulatory agencies and policymakers. The issues vary by state but many of them relate to driver training, criminal background checks, insurance requirements and meeting vehicle standards. Established taxi and limousine companies face regulations that these new businesses do not when they enter the market. To align the new competitors with the existing companies, many cities and states are beginning to clamp down on the ride-sharing companies dealing with them as illegal operations or creating regulations and legislation to deal with their entrance into their jurisdictional markets.

In many states, the regulatory agencies that handle these operations or “transportation network companies” have been telling them to cease operations or are establishing rules to govern their operations. Public utilities commissions have jurisdiction over these types of enterprises in certain states. However, motor vehicle agencies have jurisdiction in others. The Virginia DMV recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to the state’s transportation network companies and is reviewing broker’s license applications for both Uber and Lyft to operate in the state. 

Legislatively, states are also looking at ways to bring these establishments into compliance. Colorado became the first state to pass legislation to authorize ride-sharing services. The Colorado bill requires the companies to carry $1 million of commercial liability insurance when they accept passengers and also the company or the driver to carry primary insurance while the driver is soliciting fares. Other states currently have seen legislation this season concerning transportation network companies, including California, Illinois, and New Jersey. As ride-sharing companies continue to expand, policymakers will continue to explore ways to have them share the streets with existing operations and other drivers. 

by Andrew Guevara, AAMVA Coordinator, Government Affairs

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