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Highway Safety Advocates Push State Law Agenda

AHAS says adopting list of proposed laws could go a long way in saving lives.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) says new legislation adopted by the states to plug gaps in their existing safety laws could make a big difference in saving lives and reducing injuires. The argument is laid out in the the 16th edition of the group’s annual Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws.

This report rates all 50 states and Washington, DC, on their progress toward enacting 16 fundamental traffic safety laws. At present, no state has adopted all 16 recommended laws. The new edition of the report shows that a total of 406 laws are needed for all states to meet the Advocates’ optimal recommendations.

In 2017, motor vehicle fatalities reached 37,133. More than three million people were injured in road incidents in 2016, the latest year for which full data is available. AHAS points out that this death and injury toll also imposes a serious economic burden on society. “Each year on average the comprehensive cost of motor vehicle crashes is over $800 billion—nearly $250 billion of which are direct economic costs, imposing a ‘crash tax’ on every American of $784,” the group asserts.

“Lately there has been a great deal of focus on the flashy driverless cars of the future to remedy the issues plaguing our roadways, such as impaired and distracted driving and excessive speeding,” says Janette Fennell, president of and consumer co-chair of AHAS. “However, the realization of that potential is a long way off. And, when we reach the time when driverless cars are on the roads with traditional cars, tried and true protections like seat belts, motorcycle helmets and child safety seats will remain incredibly important.”

Col. James J. Mendonca, chief of the Central Falls Police Department in Rhode Island, adds, “Traffic safety data shows that the Advocates’ recommended basic and critical traffic safety laws are urgently needed. Recklessness is a frequent factor, be it speed, lack of seat belt and motorcycle helmet use, and impaired or distracted driving.”

Cathy Chase, president of AHAS, explains, “The theme of this year’s report is until the day comes when driverless cars are proven to be safe, we can save countless lives by taking action now on verified technology and comprehensive laws. While we are optimistic that automated systems, or ‘driverless’ vehicles, may have the potential to reduce, or even eliminate, crashes in the future, that utopic vision is still likely decades away.”

She warns, “If we don’t change the status quo until driverless cars are ubiquitous, motor vehicle crashes will kill hundreds of thousands of people, injure millions more and cost our society billions of dollars.”

Advocates’ report gives every state a rating in five categories (occupant protection, child passenger safety, teen driving, impaired driving and distracted driving) as well as an overall grade of: Green (Good), Yellow (Caution) and Red (Danger).

States with a green rating include Rhode Island, Delaware, Oregon, Washington, California, Louisiana and the District of Columbia. AHAS gave 33 states a yellow rating, which indicates that improvement is needed because of gaps in recommended optimal laws. States that earn a red rating lag seriously behind when it comes to adopting the recommended laws.

South Dakota has enacted the fewest laws, having adopted just two of 16. Other states with a red rating include Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Ohio, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Vermont and Virginia.

In 2018, five laws were passed that meet the criteria set out in the Roadmap Report. Idaho and Iowa adopted ignition interlock requirements for all impaired driving offenders, moving their overall rating up from red to yellow. Illinois, Nebraska and Virginia improved their child passenger safety laws by requiring children to be in rear facing seats at least up to age two.

AHAS says the following laws are still urgently needed:

Primary enforcement seat belt laws—16 states lack an optimal primary enforcement seat belt law for front seat passengers, while 31 states need an optimal primary enforcement seat belt law for rear seat passengers.

All-rider motorcycle helmet law—31 states need an optimal all-rider motorcycle helmet law.

Rear facing through age two—38 states and Washington, DC, are missing a rear facing through age two child protection law.

Booster Seats—35 states and the District of Columbia need an optimal booster seat law.

Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) for teen drivers—192 GDL laws need to be adopted to ensure the safety of novice drivers. No state has all six optimal provisions of a GDL law.

Impaired Driving—33 important impaired driving laws covering all-offender ignition interlocks, child endangerment, and open containers are needed.

All-Driver Text Messaging Restriction—Seven states need an optimal all-driver texting ban.

GDL Cell Phone Restriction—20 states and DC lack optimal laws restricting cell phone use for teen drivers.

“Countermeasures are successful at reducing crashes, saving lives and preventing injuries,” declares Matt Gannon, head of federal affairs at Farmers Insurance. “The policies recommended in the Advocates’ 2019 Roadmap Report have been demonstrated to be effective, and we urge state lawmakers to take action on them right away.”

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