A recent release of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 2012 brought the largest increase in traffic fatalities seen since 1975. This alarming trend brings an abrupt end to a decade-long decline in deaths resulting from car accidents and leads some to wonder whether lawmakers have put traffic safety programs on auto-pilot.
State and local governments regulate traffic safety for the most part, so fatality statistics vary by state. The non-profit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety recommends that all states adopt, at a minimum, 15 standard laws that have been proven to reduce motor vehicle crashes.
The 15 laws include special provisions for teen drivers, bans on texting and requirements for safety equipment such as seat belts, children's booster seats and motorcycle helmets. The organization tracks state laws and ranks states as high-, medium- or low-risk based on how their requirements stack up against the 15 recommendations.
Six states -- Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming -- ranked as high risk because of their failure to adopt key laws. Ohio is one of 30 medium-risk states with gaps in traffic safety laws. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are the most advanced states in terms of their enactment of the 15 recommended laws.
Some of the higher risk states prohibit activity such as texting while driving, but make texting a secondary offense. That means a law enforcement officer who sees a teen driver texting can't pull the car over unless he suspects the teen has committed a primary offense, such as speeding or running a red light. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety recommends that states make the behavior prohibited by the 15 key laws a primary offense.
Source: USA TODAY, "Group: Strong road-safety laws are lagging in states," Larry Copeland, Jan. 15, 2013