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Rhode Island and New York have tied for the top spot on Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s list evaluating states’ road safety enforcement efforts.
Advocates, as the group is known, released its 2021 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws on Jan. 11. Advocates is a consortium of consumer, public health, safety and insurance firms that supports policies and programs designed to promote highway safety.
Advocates’ report identifies the states that perform best and worst in terms of enforcing highway laws. It ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on adoption of 16 traffic safety laws that the group has identified as essential to road safety, including those addressing distracted and impaired driving, motorcycle helmets and seat belts.
This year marks the fifth in a row that Rhode Island, which has enacted 13 of the recommended safety laws, received the top score. New York, which enacted a primary enforcement rear seat belt law in 2020, also has 13 of the recommended laws in place. Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland), who sponsored New York’s law, noted that many people sit in the back seat when using ride-sharing services.
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“By wearing that seat belt, not only will you protect yourself, but you will be protecting other people in that vehicle,” Carlucci said during the event. “We have to continue to fight to make sure these common-sense regulations are put into law and save lives.”
Rhode Island still lacks 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 urges for unrestricted licenses to be granted no sooner than age 18.
New York lacks a booster seat law, regulations on the age limit for unrestricted license use and restrictions prohibiting all use of cellular devices by beginning teen drivers, except in an emergency.
Along with New York and Rhode Island, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, Washington, California, the District of Columbia and Louisiana also were significantly advanced in their law enforcement and received a “green” rating from Advocates.
South Dakota, Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Ohio, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Vermont and Virginia ranked among the lowest and earned a “red” rating. Missouri and Wyoming tied for poorest score, each having enacted three of the laws promoted by Advocates.
Besides evaluating states’ road safety efforts, Advocates revealed a troubling trend that marked U.S. roadways in 2020. While roads have emptied during the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers have engaged in risky behaviors such as operating a vehicle while impaired and failing to use seat belts. According to Advocates, preliminary data from the first half of 2020 indicates that, while there was a reduction in traffic levels, the fatality rate increased dramatically and behaviors such as speeding, lack of seat belt use and impaired driving were on the rise.
Chase (Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics)
“Our roadways have become reckless racetracks,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “This public health toll is significant, staggering and deserving of serious attention and swift action.”
No state has instituted all 16 of Advocates’ recommended laws. Chase urged lawmakers at the state and federal level to use the Roadmap report as they craft legislation. She also noted the potential of advanced driver assistance systems, such as emergency braking and lane departure warning technology, to improve safety.
The 117th session of Congress convened Jan. 3. The Biden administration is slated to commence Jan. 20.
“We call on the new Congress and the incoming administration to prioritize advancing these systems as required equipment on all new vehicles,” Chase said.
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