When it comes to road safety, dangerous states outnumber safe ones, according to a new report.
In its latest Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws report, the safety group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) handed 11 states a red rating indicating a lack of basic safety laws on the books. Only 10 states were given a green rating, and the rest of the country earned a yellow rating.
The ratings are based on each state's adoption of 15 safety laws that AHAS says are essential to keeping drivers and pedestrians safe. The recommended laws cover a wide range of situations including:
- Booster seats for kids until the age of 7
- Restrictions on text messaging
- Helmets required of all motorcycle riders
- Making front and back seatbelts a primary offense so officers can pull people over and ticket for that offense only
- Numerous restrictions on teen drivers
- Installation of an interlock system on all first-time drunken drivers
While no single state has passed all of the recommended laws, two states and the District of Columbia are closing in on it. Illinois, D.C., and Oregon were at the top of the heap with 12 of the 15 laws on the books. Delaware and Hawaii rounded out the top five with 11 laws each.
The 10 states scoring green ratings were:
- Rhode Island
The District of Columbia won a green rating as well.
South Dakota ranked dead last with only two of the 15 laws. The best of the worst (Wyoming) had only six of the 15 laws in force.
States that garnered a red rating were:
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Two laws related to teen drivers are the least adopted of the 15. Only eight states and D.C. have put the minimum age for getting a drivers permit at 16 years old, and a mere 11 states have put nighttime restrictions on teen drivers.
Do more laws make insurance cheaper?
While laws that prevent accidents and injuries undeniably make insurance cheaper for everyone, there is no direct correlation between states that scored well and more affordable car insurance rates.
In fact, the list of top-ranking states includes states that appear at both ends of the most- and least-affordable spectrum. Car insurance rates in Maine are routinely among the cheapest, with average rates a fraction of what the same driver might pay in, say, Louisiana or Rhode Island. But all are on the green list.
The poor-scoring red states are mostly rural, and their rates tend to fall in between the two extremes. (Here's a map of car insurance rates by state and ZIP code.)
In addition to ranking the states, the report offers hundreds of statistics as proof that the recommend laws would save lives.
Statistics drive the point home
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 12,174 lives were saved in 2012 due to seat belt use. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that when states strengthened their seatbelt laws from secondary to primary, death rates dropped by roughly 7 percent.
Statistics also highlight the importance of wearing a helmet when cruising on a motorcycle. The NHTSA estimated that 1,699 motorcyclists are still alive thanks to their helmets and an additional 781 lives could have been saved if all states required helmets.
Despite the persuasive stats, only 19 states and D.C. have helmet laws that require helmets for all riders. In 2013 there were 19 attempts in 11 states to repeal existing laws.
According to Jacqueline Gillan, president of AHAS , helmet laws are very difficult to get passed without strong support from a governor and legislative leaders. "Motorcycling groups like ABATE (an alliance of motorcycle rights groups) are very effective at activating their grassroots network in both opposing new laws and attempting to repeal existing laws," says Gillan.
Still have a lot of work to do
In 2013 only 10 laws in eight states were passed that met the criteria of the report. Hawaii and West Virginia both mandated primary enforcement of seat belt and Maryland, Utah, Texas and Hawaii all passed recommended laws pertaining to teen drivers.
There is still a long way to go. The report reveals that in order to bring all states up to full compliance, a total of 333 new laws would have to be passed.
There are a number of things that concerned citizens and parents can do to get their red state on the path to green or at least yellow. "Contact your state elected officials, schedule personal meetings, show up at town hall meetings, and use social media to broaden support," recommends Gillan.