Lethal Loopholes: Are Incomplete Highway Safety Laws Putting You at Risk?

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In January of this year, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) issued its 12th annual examination of state highway safety laws. According to the report, gaps in highway safety laws are resulting in preventable deaths, injuries, and costs. Which laws do they say are not being enforced as widely as they should be? We’ve outlined the 15 laws that the group has identified as being critical to public safety:

Occupant Protection

Primary enforcement of seat belts for front seat occupants: This allows law enforcement officers to stop and ticket the driver of a vehicle if a front seat occupant, including the driver, is not wearing a seat belt. Primary enforcement differs from secondary enforcement, which allows a law enforcement officer to ticket a driver for violating seat belt law, but only if the driver is pulled over for an unrelated violation.

Primary enforcement of seat belts for rear seat occupants: This law requires that all occupants in rear seats wear seat belts. Primary enforcement allows law enforcement officers to stop and ticket a driver if any rear seat passenger is not wearing a seat belt.

All-rider motorcycle helmets: All motorcycle riders, regardless of age, must wear a helmet that meets U.S. Department of Transportation safety standards.

Child Passenger Safety

Booster seats: Children between the ages of four and seven must be placed in a child restraint system (booster seat) that meets U.S. Department of Transportation safety standards. It is also recommended that, regardless of age, children less than 57 inches tall be secured by a booster seat.

Teen Driving (Graduated Driver Licensing)

Minimum age 16 for learner’s permit: Teens are restricted from obtaining a learner’s permit until the age of 16.

Six-month holding period: After obtaining a learner’s permit, teen drivers must retain their learner’s permit, and remain citation-free, for a minimum of six months. During this time, they must be supervised by an adult licensed driver any time they are behind the wheel.

30-50 hours supervised driving: While holding a learner’s permit, teen drivers must receive a minimum of 30-50 hours of behind-the-wheel training with an adult licensed driver.

Nighttime driving restrictions: Once a teen has graduated from a learner’s permit to a license, they may drive unsupervised except during the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.  During the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., they are prohibited from driving unless supervised by an adult licensed driver.

Passenger restriction: Unless supervised by an adult licensed driver, teen drivers are limited in the number of teenage passengers who may be in their vehicle. The recommended limit is no more than one non-familial teenage passenger.

Cell phone use restriction: Prohibits complete use of cellular devices (hand-held, hands-free and text messaging) by teen drivers.

Age 18 for unrestricted license: Teen drivers are prohibited from obtaining an unrestricted license until the age of 18.

Impaired Driving

Ignition interlock devices for all offenders: Mandates the installation of Ignition Interlock Devices on the vehicles of all convicted drunk driving offenders.

Child endangerment: This law creates a separate offense or enhances an existing penalty for an impaired driving offender who endangers a minor.

Open container: This law prohibits open containers of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle.

Distracted Driving

All-driver text messaging restriction: Prohibits all drivers, regardless of age, from sending, receiving, or reading a text message from any handled or electronic data communication device, except in the case of an emergency.

Automobile crashes are a leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of five and thirty-four. There are highway safety laws that are proven to be effective in reducing the number of automobile crashes, yet many states are not adopting them.

AHAS President Jacqueline S. Gillian says, “Lethal loopholes in traffic safety laws are literally killing us—we can and must do better.”

For more information on AHAS’s recommended safety laws, as well as statistics about how and why each law is effective, a state-by-state comparison of the adoption of these laws, and specific information regarding your state’s driver safety laws, we recommend you read this report for yourself.