Traffic Fatalities on the Rise and State Legislatures are Missing in Action –
Fewest Number of States Pass Critical Highway Safety Laws Since
Advocates’ First Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws Was Published in 2004
Time for State Leaders to Get to Work
(WASHINGTON, D.C) – Today, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) released the 2016 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws. This is the 13th year Advocates has issued this annual report which serves as a “report card” for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, grading them on enactment of 15 basic traffic safety laws. The theme of this year’s Report, “Missing in Action,” was chosen because of a disturbing trend in advancing the highway safety agenda in states last year. Preliminary data indicate that in 2015 highway fatalities are expected to increase 8 percent or more reversing a two-year gradual decline. Yet, all states are still missing critically important safety laws, and state legislative leadership is missing with 2015 experiencing the fewest number of states enacting safety laws since Advocates began publishing the report in 2004.
“Across the nation, legislatures are missing in action while more people are being killed in motor vehicle crashes. Last year only six states improved their highway safety laws while early predictions show deaths on the rise for the first half of the year. We are missing state leaders who are willing to fight for and advance proven lifesaving laws. More people are dying on our roads and unfortunately, fewer Governors and state legislators are making safety a priority. As legislatures kick into gear in 2016, we urge them to advance these laws. They will save lives and save taxpayer dollars,” said Jackie Gillan, President of Advocates.
The 15 optimal laws recommended by Advocates are based on indisputable research and decades of experience showing them to be effective at curbing preventable crashes. Each state is assigned a rating, both in five categories and an overall grade of: Green (Good); Yellow (Caution); and Red (Danger).
The new state laws enacted in 2015 are:
- Primary Enforcement of Seat Belts: Front and Rear Seats – Utah (16 states still need front seat; 32 states need rear seat)
- All-Rider Motorcycle Helmet Law: None adopted or repealed (31 states still need this law)
- Booster Seats (ages 4 through 7): Kentucky, Oklahoma (17 states still need this law)
- Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) for teen drivers: None adopted (No state currently has all of the components of a comprehensive GDL law. 174 laws are needed to addressing missing provisions)
- Impaired Driving: Texas (ignition interlock devices for all offenders), West Virginia (Open Container); (35 states and DC are missing laws, a total of 40 laws)
- All-Driver Text Messaging Restriction: Mississippi, Oklahoma (9 states still need a texting ban).
The report outlines a clear and straightforward path for states to improve safety yet too often these bills languish, sometimes for years, without any movement. Joan Claybrook, Consumer Co-Chair of Advocates and President Emeritus of Public Citizen said, “Passing these laws are opportunities for Democratic and Republican lawmakers to work together on legislation that will save lives, will save money and is strongly supported by the public. The death and injury toll could be dramatically reduced but unfortunately, year after year, legislative indifference and inaction mean that lifesaving bills don’t move or are buried in hostile committee cemeteries.”
Dr. Mark Rosekind, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), stated, “NHTSA’s estimates for the first six months of 2015 show an alarming rise in the number of traffic fatalities. It is time for the nation to get serious about the epidemic of death on our roads. This requires concerted effort on the federal, state and local level, and it is clear, as this Roadmap shows, that there is more work to do on the state level.”
Enforcement of these laws also plays a key role. Officers are on the frontline of traffic safety ensuring that not only are the laws adhered to, but also they are first to respond when crashes do occur. Montgomery County, Maryland Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, remarked, “Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety has long identified that every state in the U.S., including my home state of Maryland, should enact a mandatory ignition interlock law for all those convicted of drunk driving. I am working closely with a number of Delegates in Maryland’s General Assembly to bring a strong message that Maryland needs to take drunk and impaired driving seriously, bring justice to all victims of drunk drivers, and enact stronger laws that deter this dangerous and often deadly behavior.”
Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, said, “By any measure, motor vehicle crashes which kill 33,000 people annually and injure over 2 million more are a public health epidemic. However, unlike other public health epidemics we face as a nation or in the world, we have proven and cost-effective remedies available. We don’t lack the solutions to preventing deaths and injuries but we do lack the political leadership to pass safety laws to ensure that every person in every state is protected.”
One of the safety laws under sustained assault in state legislatures these past few years is all-rider motorcycle helmet laws. In 2015 there were serious and close repeal attempts in 10 states. Tammy Kalp, whose husband Paul was brain injured in a low-speed motorcycle crash while not wearing a helmet said, “Opponents to all-rider helmet laws argue that it should be a rider’s choice because only the rider will pay the price for his or her decision. That is simply not true. Everyone pays the price when state laws are missing. Families, friends, communities, first responders, and taxpayers are forced to bear the emotional, physical and financial consequences which are significant and enduring.” Tammy and Paul are working with Delaware Rep. Sean Lynn to change their state law from requiring motorcyclists to just carry a helmet with them to wearing one.
Also missing in action were any advances to protect teen drivers. Not a single law to close glaring gaps in comprehensive GDL programs was passed in 2015. Bill Vainisi, a strong advocate of teen driving laws who is Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Allstate Insurance and serves as the Insurance Co-Chair of Advocates said, “Every day novice teen drivers, their passengers and other road users are needlessly dying because states do not have comprehensive GDL laws. Teen driving laws that reduce the distraction of cell phone use, limit the number of teen passengers, and restrict late night driving are essential protections every state should have. At this time, no state has all 7 elements of an optimal GDL law, and that needs to change.”
Cathy Chase, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for Advocates, unveiled the list of best and worst states. Those states that earned the top rating of green were: DE, IL, OR, HI, IN, ME, RI, WA, CA, LA and the District of Columbia. Those states that were assigned a red rating, which are seriously behind in adoption of the 15 recommended laws are: SD, AZ, IA, MS, MT, NE, WY, FL, and ND. Chase stated, “We won’t be able to seriously address the rise in highway deaths until we get serious about passing these laws.”
The 2016 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, speaker statements and the news conference webcast can be found at www.saferoads.org.