Traffic overall has dropped across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic, but there has been a substantial rise in the fatality crash rate, thought to be the result of spikes in excessive speeding, impaired and distracted driving, and lower seat belt use.
A new report, which identified best and worst states based on the passage of 16 essential traffic safety laws, aims to help lawmakers reverse “a shocking and deadly trend….to turn the page on a year when emptier roads turned into risky racetracks.”
Best States: New York, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Washington, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, California and Louisiana.
Worst States: Missouri, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont and Virginia.
“As our Nation continues to cope with the devastating, wide-ranging ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a statement, the goal of the new report is “to spur action to implement proven solutions to keep motorists and road users safe – and out of the over-extended emergency rooms.”
Chase said that since the safety group began publishing the annual report, which is in its 18th year, nearly 600,000 people have been killed on the nation’s roads and more than 40 million more have been injured.
The report was created to provide a roadmap of countermeasures to help state representatives during the 2021 legislative sessions pass laws known to be effective in: occupant protection, child passenger safety, graduated driver licensing (GDL), impaired driving, and distracted driving. Each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia received a rating — Green (Good), Yellow (Caution) or Red (Danger) — based on the number of optimal traffic safety laws enacted. “Dangerous gaps” in legislation, like weak or nonexistent laws, were also identified.
Green (or Best) States must have 11 to 16 laws including both primary enforcement seat belt laws, or nine or more laws including both primary enforcement seat belt laws and an all-rider helmet law. A state without a primary enforcement seat belt law covering passengers in all seating positions (front and rear) or that has repealed an existing all-rider motorcycle helmet law within the previous ten years was not eligible for a green rating, regardless of the number of other highway safety laws it has enacted.
This year, New York was upgraded to green following the enactment of an all-occupant seat belt requirement in 2020.
Yellow States, which this year includes 30 states, are those that are not the worst, but need improvement.
Red (or Worst) States have fewer than seven laws, without both primary enforcement front and rear seat belt laws. A red rating is given to states “for lagging dangerously behind” in the adoption of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s recommendations.
South Dakota remains on the red list, but was recognized as the “most improved” for enacting four optimal laws including an all-driver texting ban and significant upgrades to its GDL program, “elevating South Dakota from its previous spot as the state with the fewest laws,” the safety group noted, adding: “Unfortunately, Missouri becomes one of just two states with only three optimal laws on the books, after the repeal in 2020 of its 52-year-old all-rider motorcycle helmet requirement.”
The report indicated the following improvements were needed:
16 states need an optimal primary enforcement seat belt law for front seat passengers;
30 states need an optimal primary enforcement seat belt law for rear seat passengers;
32 states need an optimal all-rider motorcycle helmet law;
35 states need a rear facing through age 2 law;
34 states and DC need an optimal booster seat law;
190 GDL laws need to be adopted to ensure the safety of novice drivers, no state meets all the criteria recommended in this report;
29 critical impaired driving laws are needed in 27 states;
4 states need an optimal all-driver text messaging restriction; and,
19 states need a GDL cell phone restriction.
Chase said that in addition to strengthening state laws, it is critical that the new Congress and the incoming Administration prioritize the implementation of important safety technologies that are known to help prevent and mitigate crashes. Features like automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and blind spot detection should become mandatory, she said, in all new vehicles. “This public health toll is significant, staggering, and deserving of swift action and serious attention.”
To view the safety group’s best and worst states, click here. To learn more about specific states, click here. For more information and the full report, click here and here.