Stating A Case: Laws Save Lives

State-level legislation is one way to make roads safer.

Jackie Gillan is the president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of organizations and insurance companies working as one to make America’s roads safer.

​Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety last week released the 14th edition of the Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, which rates all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their progress in adopting 15 basic, commonsense laws that have been shown to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce the economic and social cost of crashes. 

The report, Have We Forgotten What Saves Lives?, shows that every state has a loophole, a dangerous gap or, in some cases, don't have the lifesaving law at all. Despite clear and compelling data showing the public health benefits of these laws, passage of these laws last year was meager.

These laws improve seat belt and motorcycle helmet use, reduce impaired driving, mitigate distraction, protect child passengers and safeguard novice teen drivers. It is indisputable that the enactment of comprehensive safety laws, public education about the laws and strong enforcement efforts are an extremely effective and proven strategy for making our roads safer for everyone.

The release of this report comes at a critical time. Data recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows two years of sharp increases in traffic deaths. In 2015, 35,092 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes – a jump of 7.2% from 2014 – the largest percentage increase in nearly 50 years. These increases are seen across the board in all major crash categories. Early data for 2016 appears to be even worse. Preliminary information for the first nine months of 2016 shows an 8% rise in fatalities compared to the same time period in 2015. 

The title of this year's report asks if we have forgotten what saves lives, and unfortunately, the answer is "yes." State lawmakers need to make passage of these laws a priority if we are to seriously reverse the upward trend of highway deaths and injuries. This report is a playbook of immediate state legislative actions needed to curb the carnage on their roads.

The Roadmap Report is essentially a report card, grading states based on their progress in adopting these essential traffic safety laws. Additionally, the best and worst performing states are identified. While no state has enacted all 15 laws, Rhode Island comes the closest with 12 optimal laws, and it was one of five states, along with the District of Columbia, to earn a positive grade. Every other state was rated either as needing improvement or dangerously behind in adopting these critical laws.

The report shows that, in total, 376 laws are needed to address the unfinished safety agenda in the states. These are cost-effective and research-driven laws which have the potential to save thousands of lives annually and significantly reduce costs for states. Some of the legislation would make seat belts a primary enforcement law for all occupants, some would make motorcycle helmets mandatory and some would ensure children travel in an optimal booster seat. Each of these missing laws puts the public at needless risk. 

We are all too familiar with seeing roadside memorials, such as the one depicted on the report cover. We know the problem and we have the solutions at hand. It's time for all of us to get to work if we are serious about achieving serious reductions in motor vehicle crashes, deaths and injuries.

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