WASHINGTON – Arizona, Nebraska, Mississippi and Florida are among the worst states for highway safety laws, according to a report released Thursday by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
The annual report serves as a report card for all 50 states, grading them on 15 basic traffic safety laws. Each state received a rating of green, yellow or red. A red rating means a state has fewer than seven of the laws.
“Across the nation, legislatures are missing in action while more people are being killed in motor vehicle crashes,” Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates, said. “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.”
An Arizona state senator has sponsored a texting-while-driving ban in nine consecutive legislative sessions without success, according to the report. The state has five key laws regarding highway safety.
The 50 states and D.C. should adopt 319 new laws to increase auto safety, according to Advocates’ recommendations. Last year, only one state in the red passed a key highway safety law – Mississippi.
Oklahoma was the only state to enact two key safety laws in 2015 – restricting texting and driving and requiring booster seats for children. The state received a yellow rating in the 2016 report.
“Preliminary data indicate that highway travel is growing, and motor-vehicle deaths and injuries are climbing,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said. “We need to reverse the mortality and morbidity trend and we can.”
Two key laws that could reduce fatalities are stricter drunk-driving and teen driving laws.
“Every day, novice teen drivers, their passengers and other road users are needlessly dying because states do not have comprehensive graduated driver licensing laws,” Bill Vainisi, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of Allstate Insurance, said. “At this time, no state has all seven elements of an optimal GDL law, and that needs to change.”
In 2014, more than 4,200 people were killed in crashes involving a young driver, Vainisi said.
Legislation that would prevent drunk drivers from starting their cars has been enacted in 15 states. One person dies every 51 minutes in a crash related to impaired driving, costing over $59 billion each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re actually lucky if we arrest about 2 percent of the impaired drivers who are endangering our roadways at any given time,” Chief Thomas Manger, of the Montgomery County, Md., Police Department, said. “Unfortunately there’s far more drunks on the road than police officers.”
Manger said laws need to be strengthened for interlock devices in vehicles of repeat offenders. These drivers need to breath into a device installed in their cars that tests their alcohol level and won’t allow the car to start if the driver is impaired. Manger wants the devices to stay on cars longer than is typically required.
“On your second DUI arrest, make it a year,” Manger said. “For repeat offenders, make it five years, 10 years, and for the worst repeat offenders make it for the rest of their driving lives.”
When interlocking ignition devices are installed, they are associated with a 70 percent reduction in arrest rates for drunk driving, according to the CDC.
California, Washington, Illinois and Louisiana were among the top rated states for traffic safety laws in 2016. Each had at least nine key laws regarding highway safety.
Other desired laws included requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets and restricting open containers of alcohol in vehicles.
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