Illinois Governor Signs Traffic Safety Legislation.

Sign some pieces of paper; receive $31 million in federal funding. Not a bad deal. And the best part is that lives will be saved in the process.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed three new pieces of life-saving last month. One of the new laws, called a primary seat belt law, will allow law enforcement officers to stop and ticket motorists solely for a seat belt violation.

Enforcement of the primary seat belt law is already underway.The additional legislation will require children underage 8 to ride in booster seats and adds a passenger restriction to the existing graduated driver licensing system. The three new laws designed to make Illinois roads safer, especially foryounger motorists, are on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) "Ten Most Wanted" transportation safety improvement list. Illinois is the first state inthe nation to pass three of these laws in one year.

Senate bills 50, 52 and 58 were sponsored by State Senator John Cullerton of Chicago. The legislation received strong bipartisan support from Senator Barack Obama, and Representatives Mark Beaubien, Timothy Schmitz and Randall Hultgren.

"Failure to buckle up contributes to more fatalities than any other single traffic safety-related behavior. Despite traffic problems such as aggressive and distracted driving, increasing safety belt usage is still the most effective action we can take to save lives and reduce injuries on our roadways. Consequently states, which recently enacted primary enforcement safety belt laws, have experienced increased safety belt usage rates ranging from 5 to 15 percent or more. More importantly, lives have been saved," said National Safety Council President Allan McMillan.

However, in spite of successful education and enforcement programs like Illinois' Click It or Ticket campaign, nearly 25 percent of motor vehicle occupants in Illinois still do not use their seatbelts. This last group of safety belt holdouts has much in common. They tend to be young males, exhibiting multiple high-risk behaviors and are more frequently involved in crashes.

"Research shows that by-in-large young people do not respond to the threat of injury or death in a vehicle crash they don't perceive that threat as real. But they do respond to the possibility of a ticket," McMillan added. Illinois is the 19th state to enact primary safety belt legislation.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death forchildren. Injuries and deaths for children ages 4 to 8 remain high because they are either unrestrained or restrained in systems too advanced for their physical development.

"Under our proposed SAFETEA (Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003) reauthorization bill, Illinois is eligible to receive approximately $31 million dollars for passing its primary safety belt law," said National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Regional Administrator, Donald J. McNamara.

The final piece of legislation passed involves teen drivers, who continue to be involved in an alarming number of traffic crashes. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers today, accounting for 40 percent of all deaths among 15-20 year-olds.

In Illinois, teenage drivers are involved in a substantially higher proportion of traffic deaths than the national average of 14 percent. In 2001, 341 people died in highway crashes involving teen drivers. That means while teen drivers account for no more than 7.3 percent of licensed drivers, they were involved in 24 percent of the total Illinois highway deaths.

Teen drivers generally have more passengers than older drivers and these passengers are usually peers. The result is a deadly combination of inexperience and immaturity. The relative risk of death among 16 and 17-year-old drivers who have at least one passenger in the car is significantly greater compared to driving alone. The risk increases with an increased number of passengers.

The new law will add passenger restriction to the existing graduated driver licensing system to include no more than one teenage passenger allowed in the vehicle. Currently, 20 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted passenger restrictions as part of their graduated drivers licensing systems.

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