2010 Highway Safety Report: Which States Make the Grade?

On Jan. 11, highway safety advocates released the seventh annual report grading states on their performance on adopting and maintaining model traffic safety laws. This year, the report focused on text messaging, graduated driving licensing (GDL) programs and ignition interlock laws for drunk driving offenders.

In recent years, an annual average of 5.8 million crashes occurred on the nation’s highways, resulting in almost 40,000 fatalities and 2.3 million injuries, at a cost of an estimated $230 billion per year. Every day, 102 people are killed on America’s streets and highways, while more than 6,000 are injured, according to federal highway statistics.

The 2010 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws report, published by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), shows that promoting 15 model laws could result in progress toward safer roads. The 2010 Roadmap Report found that not one state has enacted all 15 of the recommended laws, and many faced a loss of ground this year.

This year’s report graded states on their adoption of 15 model laws divided into five issue categories:

  • Adult Occupant Protection (2 laws) – seat belt enforcement and an all-ride motorcycle helmet law.
  • Child Passenger Safety (1 law) – a child booster seat law requiring children aged 4-7 to be placed in a booster seat.
  • Teen Driving Graduated Driver Licensing (7 laws) – phases in the full driving privilege in a three-stage process and allows for primary enforcement of the law.
  • Impaired Driving (4 laws) – includes ignition interlock devices required for all drunk driving offenders, a child endangerment law, mandatory blood alcohol level testing in fatal crashes and an open container ban.
  • Distracted Driving (1 law) – a ban on text messaging for all drivers, except in the case of an emergency.

In each of the five issue categories, 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 ratings solely was based on whether a state had 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.

States with a Green rating:

  • District of Columbia
  • New Jersey
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Minnesota
  • California
  • Washington

States that earned a Red rating:

  • South Dakota
  • Arizona
  • North Dakota
  • Wyoming
  • Virginia
  • Vermont
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Nebraska

“These report cards serve as a highway safety GPS for every state that is serious about curbing the never ending deaths and injuries on our roadways,” said Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. “In government service, there is no higher calling than saving a life. If our nation’s governors and state legislatures delay any further in passing these 15 basic lifesaving laws, then an act of Congress to compel all of the states to act now would be altogether reasonable.”

“Timing is Everything”

Advocates Vice President Jackie Gillan added that the 2010 highway safety report cards are being released as state legislatures across the country are convening their 2010 sessions.

“Timing is everything, and the time is right to increase the pressure on states [to] act urgently to pass these lifesaving laws this year,” Gillan said. “If our state legislatures cannot find a way to adopt these model laws, we have Congress waiting in the wings to compel them do finally do so.”

The federal government has in the past used a “sanctions” approach to compel the states to swiftly and uniformly adopt top priority highway safety laws by facing the withholding of federal Highway Trust Fund monies until they act. As a result, many thousands of lives have been saved in past decades using this approach.

In 2010, Congress has several distinct and unique opportunities to save even more lives by passing sanctions for states that have not enacted laws requiring primary enforcement of seat belt laws, ignition interlocks for first offenders (as in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee draft Surface Transportation Assistance Act), all-driver text messaging restrictions (as in pending legislation, S.1475, H.R. 3535 and H.R. 3829) and minimum graduated driver licensing programs (as in the Safe Teen And Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act, STANDUP—H.R. 1895).

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