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January 22, 2018 3:45 PM, EST

Advocates Name Best, Worst States for Highway Safety Law Enforcement

Rhode Island Receives Top Marks While 13 Other States Rank Among Lowest
Rhode Island welcome sign Haydn Blackey/Flickr

Rhode Island received top marks on an advocacy group’s recent report card that evaluates states’ road safety enforcement efforts.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety on Jan. 22 released its “2018 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws,” which identifies the states that perform best and worst in terms of enforcing highway laws. The group is a consortium of consumer, public health, safety and insurance firms that supports policies and programs designed to promote highway safety.

The report card ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on adoption of 16 traffic safety laws the group has identified as essential to road safety, including those addressing distracted and impaired driving, seat belts, motorcycle helmets and child safety seats.

Cathy Chase, the safety group’s president, announced that Rhode Island, Delaware, Oregon, Washington, California, the District of Columbia and Louisiana all were “significantly advanced” in their law enforcement and received a “green” rating. Meanwhile, South Dakota, Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Nebraska, Virginia, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Vermont ranked among the lowest and earned a “red” rating.

“Only six states and D.C. earned this highest rating,” Chase said. “Thirteen states received a red rating because they are dangerously behind in the adoption of optimal safety laws.”

Rhode Island received the top score with 13 laws, lacking only an all-rider motorcycle helmet law, nighttime restrictions to limit unsupervised teen driving from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m and regulations on the age limit for unrestricted license use. An unrestricted license allows teens to drive without the supervision of a guardian or instructor. Advocates urge for unrestricted licenses to be granted no sooner than age 18.

South Dakota, which received the poorest score, has only enacted two of the laws that Advocates promotes.

Alan Maness, vice president of federal affairs for State Farm Insurance and an Advocates board member, noted that no state has enforced all 16 recommended laws.

Despite the state’s high score, a Rhode Island Department of Transportation spokesman said there is more work to be done.

“It’s always an honor when our state is noted for its safety efforts. In the past 15 years our state legislators have worked diligently to create a safer roadway environment for all residents and visitors and this report reflects those dedicated efforts,” said RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin. However, he added, “We accept this recognition with caution. Our fatalities tragically increased in 2017. That simply tells us that our vigilance to safety must remain high and intense.” According to St. Martin, there were 84 highway-related fatalities in the state in 2017, compared to 51 in 2016.

According to an Advocates press release issued Jan. 19, highway fatalities nationwide saw an 8.4% increase in 2015 and a 5.6% increase in 2016. Chase said 100 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents every day.

The report card also focused on the benefits safety technology could bring to the nation’s roadways. Such technologies, such as collision avoidance systems, rearview cameras, automated speed settings, red-light enforcement systems and ignition interlocks, have the potential to reduce vehicle-related fatalities.

Jackie Gillan, the safety group’s president emeritus, said embracing technology and enforcing highway safety laws is a “daunting but doable task.”

“The potential for technology to make an even larger contribution is real,” Gillan said. “We are all facing the reality that year after year after year, motor vehicle crashes will continue to kill tens of thousands of people.”

The group’s shortlist of high- and low-performing states bears a resemblance to 2017’s scorecard. In 2017, Rhode Island, Delaware, Washington, the District of Columbia, Louisiana and Oregon ranked the highest. Similarly, South Dakota, Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, Virginia, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Vermont scored among the worst.

South Dakota has ranked last on the report card list for the past several years. A spokesman from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety said that passage of highway laws is a legislative issue, and that it is the responsibility of the Public Safety Department to enforce such laws.

“The department has been vigilant in enforcing the laws already passed and also urging citizens of all ages to be more careful drivers in ways such as not using cell phones while driving and to always wear a seatbelt,” the spokesman said.