January 10th, 2013 by Amanda Shapiro
WASHINGTON, D.C., (January 11, 2013) – New incentive funds from Congress could spur state legislatures to pass lifesaving safety improvements in their upcoming 2013 sessions, according to AAA. Federal incentives for laws that ban texting while driving, improve teen driver safety and require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers align with AAA’s nationwide legislative agenda to improve highway safety and could help combat a recent uptick in highway deaths.
“The promise of federal dollars might encourage additional states to pass needed safety improvements,” said AAA Vice President of Public Affairs Kathleen Bower. “The recent federal estimate that traffic deaths increased during the first nine months of 2012 is a reminder that safety gains are not inevitable and that continued legislative action is necessary to help reduce fatal crashes.”
The recent passage of MAP 21, the federal transportation authorization law, provides an average of $500 million annually in incentive funding for states that address many of these safety improvements.
“Progress slowed on many fronts for traffic safety advocates last year, but AAA has hope for improvements in 2013,” continued Bower. “Between the heavy toll of highway deaths and the availability of new federal funds, state policymakers have many reasons to act on road safety this year.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in December released estimates that traffic deaths increased by 7.1 percent in the first nine months of 2012 versus the same period the previous year. The estimated rate of deaths also increased, from 1.09 to 1.16 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
AAA’s top safety priorities in the states for 2013 include:
- Distracted driving: AAA in 2009 launched a national campaign to ban text messaging while driving in all 50 states. Thirty-nine states now have laws that prohibit drivers from texting and AAA expects all 11 remaining states to consider this legislation in 2013. Distracted driving remains a significant contributor to traffic deaths. According to NHTSA, nine percent of fatal crashes and 18 percent of injury crashes in 2010 involved some form of distraction.
- Teen driver safety: Graduated driver licensing (GDL) is one of the most effective means of reducing teen driving deaths. While every state has some form of GDL, nearly every state also has room for further improvements. Only six states (Del., Ind., Mich., N.Y., Okla. and W.Va.) have GDL systems that meet AAA’s guidelines for nighttime limits, passenger limits and practice requirements. AAA will also encourage states to strengthen license requirements and ban the use of wireless communications devices for novice drivers. Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for teens, accounting for almost one in three fatalities in this age group. Safety experts credit GDL laws for much of the 57 percent decline in traffic fatalities for 16- and 17-year-old drivers between 1995 and 2010.
- Booster seat laws: Despite a proven ability to reduce injuries and deaths for child passengers by 45 percent, child passenger safety laws in 19 states fall short of safety experts’ guidelines recommending that all children under age eight remain in either a car or booster seat. Fla. and S.D. still do not have booster seat requirements. Research also shows that children ages four to eight who live in states with booster seat laws are 39 percent more likely to be appropriately restrained than children in states without such laws.
- Primary seat belt laws: AAA and other safety advocates will continue to work to change laws in the remaining 18 states without a primary belt law, increase fines in states with weak penalties and expand seat belt requirements to include backseat passengers in remaining states. Primary seat belt laws have repeatedly been shown as a low-cost way for states to quickly increase belt use, reduce traffic deaths and lower the cost of crashes. When lap/shoulder belts are used, the risk of injury to the front-seat occupants is reduced by 45 percent and states passing primary-enforcement seat belt laws should expect to see belt usage increase 10-13 percent.
- Ignition interlocks: Only 17 states and four California counties require ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers. AAA is calling on the other 33 states to step up for safety and require ignition interlocks for all offenders. Research has identified the life-saving benefit of ignition interlocks, which are more effective than other methods at reducing repeat offenses among convicted drunk drivers while they are installed.
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 53 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.