Report: States Behind on Traffic Safety Laws

By: - January 12, 2010 12:00 am

Nearly half of the states don’t do enough to reduce auto accidents that killed 37,261 Americans last year, such as stepping up seat belt enforcement or banning text-messaging while driving, according to a new report by Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety.

The nonprofit group released the 2010 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws as many state legislative sessions get under way to help states avoid the thousands of “largely preventable” roadway deaths each year that are a “never-ending, American tragedy,” Judith Lee Stone, the group’s president, said at a Washington news conference Monday. This is the seventh annual report that grades all 50 states and Washington D.C., on their traffic safety laws.

In a year when many states continue to face deep budget deficits, advocates say stronger laws could actually save money. In 2008, the nearly six million car accidents in the country cost an estimated $230 billion “in property and productivity losses, medical and emergency bills and other related costs,” according to the report.

“Why wouldn’t it be the No. 1 priority?” Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton asked at the news conference. “These tragedies do not have to take place.”

The report ranked the best states, in order, as the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Minnesota, California and Washington.

A number of states currently are considering legislation that would move them toward the group’s safety goals. New Jersey lawmakers approved Monday a measure that would require convicted drunken drivers to install ignition interlocks on their vehicles. The devices act as Breathalyzers and prevent cars from starting when the devices detect alcohol. Also, 200 bills to reduce distracted driving have been proposed around the country, The New York Times reported , ranging from a South Carolina push to outlaw all cell-phones use by drivers to a proposed texting-while-driving ban in Kansas.

Still, a number of states have a long way to go to improve roadway safety, according to the report. Twenty-one states, for example, do not have a primary enforcement seat belt law, which allows law enforcement to stop and ticket drivers for not wearing their seat belts. The group rated Arizona, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming as worst in the country overall for their “dangerous lack of basic laws.”

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