Iowa DOT Releases Plan to Reduce Highway Deaths by 10%

May 3, 2007

Iowa transportation officials have released a plan aimed at reducing highway deaths by 10 percent by 2015.

The plan released this week calls for greater restrictions on young drivers, a motorcycle helmet law and expanding the seatbelt law to include back seat passengers. Two other recommendations are increased funding for traffic law enforcement and boosting state funding for road improvements related to safety.

The number of traffic fatalities in Iowa averages 445 deaths per year. The state could reduce traffic fatalities to 400 by 2015 if the recommendations outlined in the state’s Comprehensive Highway Safety Plan are followed, the Iowa Department of Transportation said.

The state is required to submit the report by the most recent highway funding reauthorization bill.

“If we’re going to make further progress, we need to look to change the safety culture,” said Tom Welch, safety engineer for the transportation department.

Iowa is one of a handful of states in which beginning drivers _ those 141/2 and 15 _ are allowed to drive unsupervised with a minor school license. Drivers under 24 make up only 17 percent of the total drivers licenses issued in Iowa, but account for 40 percent of the serious and fatal injuries suffered in traffic accidents.

Welch said restrictions on beginning drivers could include limiting the number of passengers who could ride with a beginning driver, reducing night time driving, prohibiting cell phone use, or requiring that all occupants in the vehicle wear safety restraints.

One of the biggest political long shots in the motorcycle helmet proposal.

Iowa is one of four states with no helmet law, a status quo defended by an aggressive anti-helmet-law lobbying group.

Rep. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said the lack of movement on highway safety issues is because of an honest disagreement about how much regulation is too much. He opposes a helmet law and has strong reservations about most of the other proposals.

Eight safety program recommendations also are presented in the report that can be implemented by the Department of Transportation without legislative action. The list includes strategies to lower lane departure accidents and increased use of roundabouts instead of conventional intersections.

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