Advocates Releases New Report Highlighting Gaps in State Highway Safety Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACTS:Bill Bronrott
January 8, 2007 <202-270-4415 or 301-896-0003 (bbcomm@aol.com)
 
  202-408-1711 or 202-374-2960 (jgunderson@saferoads.org)

New Study Finds Mounting Deaths and Minimal Progress as
Key Highway Safety Laws Hit Roadblocks in Most State Capitals

Governors, State Legislatures Urged to Enact 15 Essential Laws in 2007 to Increase Seat Belt, Child Booster Seat and Motorcycle Helmet Use While Curbing Drunk Driving and
Improving Teen Driver Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Monday, January 8, 2007) - Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) today released its fourth annual highway safety report, the "2007 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws," that rates each state and the District of Columbia on their adoption of 15 proven-effective laws to significantly reduce death and injury on the nation's roads.

The release of the study coincides with every state legislature opening their 2007 sessions this month, and as motor vehicle crashes continue to be the number one killer of Americans ages 4 to 34.

Advocates found that no state has adopted all 15 traffic safety measures which cover five major areas of safety behavior: seat belt use, motorcycle helmet use, child booster seat use, teen driving, and impaired driving.

An analysis of the extent to which the 50 states and D.C. adopted these 15 laws found nearly 300 gaps nationwide at the start of 2006, yet only 22 of these state traffic safety loopholes were closed by the end of the year.

This comes at a time when 43,443 people died in traffic crashes in 2005, which was the highest number in a single year since 1990 when 44,599 people died. The overall traffic fatality rate was up for the first time in 20 years as well. Another 2.7 million motorists were injured in crashes. The economic costs resulting from motor vehicle crashes exceed $230 billion annually, which is the equivalent of a yearly "crash tax" of $792 on every American.

"As long as this number one killer of young people has been a national public health epidemic, one would think that proven solutions would be firmly in place to stem the annual mortality tide," said Advocates president Judith Lee Stone. "But they are not, and public and government outrage seems muted given the scale of loss to our society."

The "2007 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws" report divided the 15 model laws into four issue categories:

Occupant Protection (2 laws) - A primary enforcement seat belt law and an all-rider motorcycle helmet law.

Child Passenger Safety (1 law) - A child booster seat law from ages 4 to 8.

Optimal Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program (5 laws) - A six-month "holding period" during the learner's permit phase; a minimum 30-50 hours of supervised driving during the learner's permit period; a nighttime driving restriction from at least 10:00pm to 5:00am during the provisional or intermediate stage; a restriction of no more than one non-family teen passenger during the provisional or intermediate stage; and new to this year's criteria is a total prohibition on cell phone use by drivers with learner's permits or provisional licenses, except in the case of calling 911 in an emergency.

Impaired Driving (7 laws) - Repeat offender penalties, open container ban, enhanced penalties against high blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) drivers, mandatory BAC testing for drivers killed in crashes, mandatory BAC testing for drivers who survive crashes in which another motorist was killed, state authorization of sobriety checkpoints, and penalties against impaired drivers transporting children (child endangerment laws).

In each category, states were given one of three ratings based on how many optimal laws they have: Green (Good); Yellow (Caution - state needs improvement); and Red (Danger - state falls dangerously behind). 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 to states with child booster seat laws or teen driving laws that met elements of Advocates' optimal definition.

"Last year can best be summed up as mounting deaths and minimal progress," said Advocates vice president Jacqueline Gillan. "In 1967, New York was the first state to pass an all-rider motorcycle helmet law. Forty years later, only 20 states and D.C. have adopted this lifesaving law despite the dramatic, deadly and costly rise in motorcyclist deaths over the past decade when we saw several states repeal their helmet laws."

The overall ratings for the four issue categories were:

GREEN STATES (16 plus DC): Alabama, California, Delaware (new - upgraded from yellow), District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii (new - upgraded from yellow), Illinois, Kentucky (new - upgraded from yellow), Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington.

Within the "green" category, Advocates identified the "BEST PERFORMANCE STATES" which were historically highly ranked states that were credited with passing at least two additional new laws in 2006. Those were: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, and Kentucky.

Among the "green" states, Advocates identified those that have stagnated and enacted little or no new legislation over the past four years. These "LIGHT GREEN STATES" were: California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington.

YELLOW STATES (31): Alaska (new - upgraded from red), Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana (new - downgraded from green), Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico (new - downgraded from green), North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma (new - downgraded from green), Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

RED STATES (3): Arkansas, South Dakota and Wyoming.

A new category for "WORST PERFORMING STATES" was created this year to identify the historically lowest rated states that have made little to no legislative progress in recent years. These were: Arizona, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

"Getting adults, teens, and children to buckle up and keeping impaired drivers off the road are two of the biggest ways to reduce highway fatalities," said Deborah Hersman, board member of the National Transportation Safety Board. "We know that more people buckle up when states have strong seat belt laws that authorize primary enforcement and apply to all vehicle seating positions. We know that more children are buckled up when the driver is buckled up, and we know that seat belts are the best defense against impaired drivers," said Hersman. "At the top of NTSB's Most Wanted safety improvements are the laws recommended by Advocates to address impaired driving, teen driving, child occupant protection, and primary enforcement seat belt use."

The 2007 report found that:

  • 25 states still need a primary enforcement seat belt law. Hawaii, Kentucky and Mississippi were the only states to enact such a law in 2006, bringing the total to 25 states plus the District of Columbia. Both houses of the Massachusetts legislature passed this legislation last year, but then reversed itself in a political trade by legislative leaders on an unrelated issue. Nearly 55 percent of people killed in motor vehicle crashes are unbelted. Studies show that a state with a primary seat belt law has use rates 10 to 15 percentage points higher than in states with only secondary enforcement where you can only be ticketed for not buckling up if observed committing another traffic violation.

Wayne E. Moore, M.D., is the Meharry-State Farm Alliance's lead medical professional who is urging states to pass primary seat belt laws as "a reasonable public policy solution to a public health crisis claiming the lives and limbs of millions of American motorists." Dr. Moore is the chief of emergency medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, which is the oldest historically black institution educating health professionals in the nation. The college has done extensive studies showing that seat belt use is lower among African-Americans and other minorities.

"This new report is an eye-opener for state legislatures about what is lacking in terms of highway safety laws, and it is an action blueprint for solutions," Dr. Moore said. "Some say that primary enforcement seat belt laws would infringe on personal rights and freedom, but this is a public health epidemic not unlike an outbreak of smallpox or TB. It would be unconscionable to have proven vaccine to inoculate children and adults against a ravaging disease and not use it. The disease we speak of today is lack of seat belt use in American today." Dr. Moore pointed out that "100 percent seat belt use among African Americans could prevent 1,300 deaths and 26,000 injuries each year."

  • 30 states still need an all-rider motorcycle helmet law. These include four states - Colorado, Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire - that have no helmet law at all, and 26 other states with helmet laws requiring only younger riders to wear them. Motorcyclist deaths have more than doubled since 1997, yet no state adopted an all-rider helmet law in 2006. Numerous state legislatures considered repealing their helmet laws last year. States that have repealed their all-rider laws have seen significant increases in deaths. Today, only 20 states and D.C. require all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.

"Death rates from head injuries are twice as high among motorcyclists in states without all-rider helmet laws," said Pennsylvania Representative Dan Frankel (District 23, Pittsburgh), who opposed the repeal of his state's all-rider motorcycle helmet law in 2003. "In the year after our repeal, the number of motorcycle crash patients admitted to state trauma centers with head injuries increased 48 percent and has increased by double-digits every year since. This should be no surprise as other states gambling with repeal have experienced the same tragic and costly increases. We need to get our law back because, if you don't die in the crash, these debilitating brain injuries cost taxpayers a lot of money to rehabilitate and care for head-injured cyclists at state expense."

Representative Frankel added that "if any other public health epidemic demonstrated a doubling of deaths in less than a decade, our nation would not stand for it. All the experts, all the resources would be organized to fight the disease, to get to the root of it. We already know one major root cause of this epidemic, and we need every state to have an all-rider motorcycle helmet law in place, so use of helmets can be easily enforced and dramatic decreases in brain injuries and deaths will be realized."

  • 35 states still need an optimal booster seat law to cover all children ages 4 to 8. Today, 23 states have a booster seat law that partially covers children up to age 8, and 12 other states have yet to adopt any booster seat law. In 2006, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin adopted the optimal law while Alabama enacted a law covering children only up to age five. Today, 15 states and D.C. have an optimal booster seat law.
  • 49 states and D.C. lack an optimal Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) program. Only one state - Delaware - has enacted all five elements of Advocates' comprehensive GDL.
  • 37 states and D.C. have not passed all seven basic impaired driving laws. In 2006, only two impaired driving laws recommended by Advocates were enacted in the U.S. when Hawaii and Nebraska passed High BAC legislation toughening penalties against drunk drivers twice or more the .08 BAC limit. Today, only 13 states have adopted all seven optimal anti-drunk driving laws - Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Utah.

"This report inserts new details into a story that we, sadly, already know: our roads are needlessly unsafe," U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg said. "I've spent my career trying to make our highways safer by authoring laws such as the raising the minimum drinking age to 21 and lowering the legal blood alcohol limit to .08. In the new Congress, I will work to make sure that the federal government does more to prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans on our highways each year." Senator Lautenberg is a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, and serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee which has jurisdiction over transportation safety issues.

With every state legislature opening their 2007 sessions this month, Advocates is sending this new report to the nation's governors to urge them to accelerate adoption of these basic highway safety laws to ensure that all 15 measures are uniformly in effect across the nation.

"This is a timely opportunity to educate every Governor and state legislator on where the deadly gaps are in their highway safety laws and to urge them to close these lethal loopholes this year," said Advocates president Stone.

The complete "2007 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws" report can be found on the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety website: www.saferoads.org. Advocates is a coalition of insurance, consumer, health, safety and law enforcement organizations that work together to advance state and national highway and vehicle safety policies.


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Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is a coalition of consumer, health, safety and insurance companies working together to advance highway and auto safety.

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