Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety (AHAS), an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents, has released its 15th Annual Roadmap of State Highway Laws report that has found more than 400 various state laws that could help reduce the staggering number of collision injuries and fatalities across the country.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2016, over 37,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes, an increase of 5.6% from the previous year. In fact, most types of fatalities (e.g., crashes involving pedestrians, motorcyclists, pedacyclists, and large trucks) saw significant increases in 2016. And crash fatalities aren’t the only issue. In 2015, there were close to 2.5 million people injured and nearly 6.3 million police-reported car crashes.
All together, these growing rates are costing the U.S. $871 billion a year, or about $900 per U.S. citizen, in medical costs, property damage, lost compensation, etc.
It's Not Uniform
Depending on where you live, the chances of being involved in a car crash vary widely for numerous reasons. One important reason for the variance is how traffic laws differ from state to state, which is what the report by Advocates examines.
Cathy Chase, President of AHAS, stated that state lawmakers have found this report to be useful to address highway safety legislation needs.
“Some many not even know all the laws that their state has on highway safety. But then they are able to pick up this report, which is handy and concise, and see where their state stands,” Chase said.
In total, AHAS recommends 16 lifesaving laws under five general categories that include occupant protection, child passenger safety, teen driving, impaired driving, and distracted driving laws.
Chase believes that primary enforcement seat belt laws are the most important type of highway safety legislation that needs to be passed. Currently, only 16 states have seat belt laws. And 50% of car crash fatalities are those who fail to wear seat belts, many of whom are teenagers.
According to Chase and the annual report, the least adopted safety law is the all-ride motorcycle helmet law, although most Americans (80%) do favor state legislation on this issue.
Most States Need Improvement
AHAS rated all 50 states and Washington D.C. based on how many of these recommended laws have been adopted by giving them green (great progress made), yellow (some improvement needed), or red (state has fallen dangerously behind) color ratings.
Most states (31) fell in the yellow range, while six states, including Washington, DC, were ranked green. Thirteen states were rated red.
The best state for traffic laws was Rhode Island, which has enacted 13 out of the 16 recommended laws, while the worst state was South Dakota, which has enacted only two out of the 16 recommended laws.
The report also listed some solutions that could also keep America’s roads safer including collision avoidance technology, automated enforcement (e.g., red light cameras and speed cameras), enhancing large truck safety, and increased rear seat safety for children and teenagers.
On a national level, the National Safety Council (NSC) heads up a broad-based coalition of over 600 members and counting (which includes Advocates) called Road to Zero, with the goal of having zero road fatalities by 2050.
Jane Terry, Senior Director of Government Affairs at NSC, hopes that their long-term visioning report (which is slated to be released this April) on how to achieve this goal will be used not only with reaching out to lawmakers, but also with community leaders, parents of teen drivers, as well as business who have company vehicles.
“It's really been exciting to see so many different groups come together. When we started this, I wouldn't have thought that many people would be necessarily paying attention. But obviously, I think people are reaching to the point where they're really just fed up with some of the behavior that they see on the roadways, [including] loss of life,” Terry said.