Study Says Most States Slow to Move Toward Safety for Younger Drivers

January 13, 2006

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) recently released its 3rd annual highway safety report, “2006 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws-Players, Politics and Progress,” that rates each state and the District of Columbia on their progress in adopting 14 essential laws to reduce the number one killer of Americans between the ages of four and 34 – highway crashes.

The new study found little to no progress in enactment of these 14 laws despite 6.2 million motor vehicle crashes in 2004 resulting in 42,636 deaths, 3 million injuries and an economic loss of $230 billion nationwide. “This is a public health epidemic by any measure and a political crisis in our state capitals,” said Georges Benjamin, M.D., executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Advocates has identified 14 basic laws that each state should enact to significantly reduce highway deaths and injuries, such as a primary enforcement seat belt law, an all-rider motorcycle helmet law, a booster seat law covering children up to age 8, a four-point Graduated Drivers License program for new teen drivers, and seven drunk driving countermeasures.

The report found that no state had all 14 traffic safety laws and only 16 states and D.C. earned a passing safety rating of green (good). The green states were Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia. Four states, Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Wyoming earned a red rating (danger – state is falling behind) and thirty (30) states received a yellow rating (caution – needs improvement).

“This year’s scores show that 34 states lack fundamental traffic safety laws at a time when deaths and injuries continue unabated,” said Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates. “Most laws are languishing in a sea of political complacency in state capitals as bills fail to be introduced, die or are bottled up in legislative committees or are weakened by opponents.”

The Roadmap Report found that:

* 28 states still need a primary enforcement seat belt law. South Carolina was the only state to enact such a law in 2005. More than half of those killed in motor vehicle crashes are unbelted.

* 30 states still need an all-rider motorcycle helmet law. Since 1997, motorcycle fatalities have jumped a staggering 89 percent, yet no state adopted an all-rider helmet law in 2005. 15 state legislatures considered helmet repeal measures. States that have repealed their all-rider laws have seen a significant increase in deaths. According to Advocates’ 2004 Lou Harris poll, 82 percent of Americans support all-rider helmet laws.

* 17 states need a booster seat law; 39 states still need to upgrade their booster seat law to protect children up to age 8 or 80 pounds. Last year only two states (WA and WV) enacted Advocates’ recommended booster seat law.

* 49 states do not protect teen drivers with an optimal Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) program. This past year only one state – Nevada – has enacted all four elements of a comprehensive Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) program: in the learner’s permit stage, a six-month holding period and 30-50 hours of adult-supervised driving; in the intermediate stage, a 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. nighttime driving restriction and a passenger restriction.

States were rated on seven basic impaired driving laws. In 2005, only seven impaired driving laws recommended by Advocates were passed among all 50 states: two Child Endangerment (Mass. and Mont.); two High Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) (Mass., Texas); three Open Container (Colo., Ind., Mont.); and one Repeat Offender law (Mass.). In 2004, 40 percent of deaths on our highways involved drunk driving.

“Enacting highway safety laws in state legislatures is beginning to look like a board game. A few states move forward, many states are stuck in the same place while other states jump around and sometimes go backwards. The winners and losers are American families but governors and state legislators are playing with their lives,” said Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates. “Last year’s state legislative activity can best be characterized by distraction, inaction and retraction.”

Mary Jagim, an emergency room nurse from Fargo, N.D., and prior president of the Emergency Nurses Association participated in the press conference as consumer co-chair of Advocates. Jagim said, “If I told you that hospitals in nearly every state lacked some of the most basic and fundamental emergency room technology and equipment to save lives, the public would be appalled, newspapers would be carrying stories on the front page, governors would be holding press conferences to announce corrective measures, and state legislative leaders would be clamoring to pass bills to fix the problem. And yet, we have the same situation when it comes to protecting the health and safety of families on our streets and highways in states across the country.”

With the majority of state legislatures opening their 2006 sessions this month, Advocates sent the report to the nation’s governors and urged them to accelerate adoption of these basic highway safety laws to ensure that all 14 laws are uniformly in effect across the nation.

Advocates’ report divided the 14 model laws into four issue categories.

* Occupant Protection (2 laws): Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Law and All-Rider Motorcycle Helmet Law.
* Child Passenger Safety (1 law): Child Booster Seat Law for ages 4 to 8.
* Optimal Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program (4 laws): 6-Month Holding Period, 30-50 Hours Supervised Driving, Nighttime Driving Restriction and Passenger Restriction.
* Impaired Driving (7 laws): Repeat Offender, Open Container, High BAC, Mandatory BAC Testing for Drivers Killed in Fatal Crashes, Mandatory BAC Testing for Drivers who Survive Fatal Crashes, Sobriety Checkpoints, and Child Endangerment Laws.

In each category, states are given one of three ratings based on how many optimal laws they have: Green (Good); Yellow (Caution); and Red (Danger). Placement in one of the three sections was based solely on whether or not a state has adopted a law as defined in the report, and not on any evaluation of a state’s highway safety education-enforcement program or on fatality rates. Partial credit was given for states with booster seat and teen driving laws that did not meet Advocates’ optimal definition.

The overall ratings for the four issue sections are:

Green states:
Alabama, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington.

Yellow states:
Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Red states:
Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The report and a summary can be found on the Web site for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (

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