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Report: States can do more as road deaths rise

By Posted : 01/17/2013

highway accidents and car insuranceHighway deaths rose more than 7 percent in the first nine months of 2012 compared with the same period the previous year, marking the biggest jump for that period since 1975, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data.

States may have become indifferent to highway safety because traffic fatalities had been declining since 2005, Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS), said during a press conference this week .

"We've all become sort of complacent in putting new laws on the books because highway deaths were going down," Gillan said. "I think this is a real wake-up call. … Several states have been moving backward and most states are not moving at all to enact lifesaving laws." (See: "Ticket? Uh-Oh! Car insurance rate hikes for 14 common infractions.")

She added that crashes kill about 33,000 people and injure 2 million more every year.

To support its case, the Washington, D.C.-based AHAS released its "2013 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws," an annual report grading states on road safety. The study, which draws on information and statistics gathered from the NHTSA and other federal and state agencies, gave low marks to several states, including:

  • South Dakota
  • Mississippi
  • Arizona
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Wyoming
  • Iowa
  • Florida
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • South Carolina
  • Texas

The AHAS says those states lagged behind others in implementing a group of 15 stringent laws controlling everything from distracted and drunken driving (including ignition locking devices for all offenders) to the use of seat belts and child booster seats. (See: "Got a ticket? You could be paying for it for years.")

On the more positive side of the ledger

According to the AHAS, these states have taken steps to protect drivers by having at least some of the more rigorous regulations in place:

  • New York
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington
  • District of Columbia

The AHSA also commended Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin for adopting graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs for teens; Virginia for tightening drunken-driving laws, including ignition locking devices for anyone convicted of a DUI; and Alabama, Idaho and West Virginia for banning driver texting.

But more needs to be done. Among the AHAS' suggestions are:

  • Eighteen states should have stricter seat belt laws
  • Thirty-one states still need an all-rider motorcycle helmet law
  • Nineteen states should have a child booster seat law
  • Forty states and the District of Columbia are missing one or more laws -- including ignition locking devices -- designed to control drunk drivers
  • Fifteen states still need texting restrictions
  • All states need more comprehensive laws related to GDL programs

"Every state legislature will be in session this year so there are no excuses for inaction by governors and elected leaders," Gillan said.

Safer roads: The car insurance connection

Along with the public safety threat, there are financial repercussions when highways are more dangerous. Beyond the jump in medical expenses and health insurance, car insurance policies are affected. More accidents frequently lead to a hike in premiums. (See: "Car accident diagrams go digital.")

If you're at fault, one car accident on your driving record may raise your car insurance rate by 10 percent to 40 percent, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com.

An accident's impact on your premiums depends on the circumstances involved and how many recent claims you've had. If you've been accident-free for the three years prior to the incident, some insurers won't tack on a surcharge unless the damage or injury costs are over $1,000. (See: "Something to hold on to: Comprehensive and collision insurance.")

State insurance laws also come into play. Some states allow insurers to surcharge drivers only for certain types of accidents or damages were over a certain monetary amount. An accident typically will affect your rates anywhere from three to five years; it depends upon state laws and the guidelines of your car insurance company.

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