State legislatures across the country passed several traffic safety laws in 2011 covering seat belt use, child passenger protection, drunk driving and other safety issues. The laws are summarized in a report, “Traffic Safety and Public Health,” from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 3 and 34. In 2010, according to the NCSL report, about 2.2 million people were injured in motor vehicle crashes.
Many of those killed or injured were not wearing seat belts. In 2011, several states debated “primary enforcement” laws, which allow police officers to stop motorists solely for violating the seat belt law. Rhode Island passed such a law, while Illinois and Nebraska amended their seat belt laws to include passengers in all seats.
Several states debated legislation to improve protection for children riding in motor vehicles. Motor vehicle deaths are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 3 and 14. In 2011, “California, Colorado, Georgia, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon and Wisconsin passed bills strengthening current child passenger laws,” according to NCSL. Most of the new laws added provisions to booster seat and age requirements, and other measures increased penalties for violators.
Alcohol is a factor in an estimated 40 percent of traffic fatalities each year, according to the American Automobile Association. In 2010, 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-impaired traffic crashes. Last year, state legislatures in Alabama, Maryland, Texas and Vermont passed laws with increased penalties and other provisions for drivers who register a high blood alcohol content.
For example, in Alabama, offenders under the new law receive double the minimum DUI penalty. Also, for two years they cannot drive without an ignition interlock device that prevents them starting their vehicle if their blood alcohol level registers too high. In Texas, a new law increases the criminal charge for drivers who register a high blood alcohol content.