State Highway Safety Laws

By Dewey-Kollen, Janet | Law & Order, February 2005 | Go to article overview

State Highway Safety Laws


Dewey-Kollen, Janet, Law & Order


Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups along with insurance companies working to advance highway and auto safety, recently released its second annual highway safety report, 2005 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws-Roadwork Ahead, the Unfinished Safety Agenda (Roadmap Report).

The Roadmap Report is one of the most comprehensive surveys currently available of traffic safety legislation in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The amount of detail, definition and comparison of state safety laws to a list of 14 key highway safety laws outlined in the report will be an extremely helpful tool to those working to improve traffic safety in America.

With the approach of spring legislative sessions in most states, Advocates wrote to every Governor with a link to the report and urged each of them to make highway safety a top priority: "Over the years, so many people involved in traffic safety at the state level have communicated with us asking for ideas and recommendations for effective safety legislation."

"The Roadmap Report represents proven solutions and strategies backed by research and ready to be implemented. We commend those communities and states where these laws are in place, and urge those yet to pass these safety statutes to act now to reduce deaths and injuries on their roadways," says Judie Stone, president of Advocates.

Enforcement officers have a critical role in the passage of traffic safety laws and ordinances by working with elected officials to help them understand the need to upgrade statutes in the interest of public safety.

"Law enforcement agencies have to make a sustained effort to educate the public, and our elected officials, about the crash-related deaths and injuries caused by low seat belt use, drunk and inexperienced driving, and other traffic safety issues. The sooner society addresses these critical issues, the more lives we can save by reducing the number of avoidable tragedies police officers witness every day," says lieutenant Steven McCarthy, CommanderTraffic Programs section, Massachusetts State Police.

The Roadmap Report also includes findings from a Lou Harris poll that shows strong public support for adoption of state laws that improve overall highway safety. Support for key traffic safety issues is primary enforcement of seat belt laws, 80%; booster seat use required for children ages four to eight, 84%; requirement that all motorcyclists wear helmets, 80%; stepped up drunk driving prevention, 87% and sobriety checkpoints, 80%.

No State Has All Key Safety Laws

According the findings outlined in the comprehensive analysis, no state has all 14 key highway safety laws. Only 13 states-Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington-and DC got the highest rating for having made progress in advancing key laws to curb drunk driving, encourage seat belt and motorcycle helmet use, require booster seats for young children, and protect new teen drivers.

Seven states are dangerously lagging behind, with less than half of the 14 basic highway safety laws. Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming were given the lowest rating in the report. The other 30 states have serious gaps in adoption of Advocates' recommended basic highway safety laws. A summary of the State Roadmap Report and Lou Harris Poll results show the challenges.

Twenty-nine states do not have primary enforcement seat belt laws for adults. When states pass primary enforcement seat belt laws, seat belt use increases by 10 to 15% points.

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