Citing a rise in traffic deaths in 2012, a watchdog group urged states this week to strengthen laws that protect drivers and their passengers.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS), which has prodded federal and state lawmakers to make roads less dangerous since 1989, said 33,561 people died on highways in 2012. That's a 3.3 percent jump over 2011. The 2012 statistic is the most recent available and gathered from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other government agencies.
To reverse that, more states need to adopt tougher statutes in several areas, including restricting texting on cellphones and requiring the use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets for all riders, AHAS President Jacqueline S. Gillan said during a press conference.
"After six consecutive years of declining fatalities on our nation's roads, traffic deaths increased in 2012," she said. "This alarming shift is a stark reminder that states must continue to pass and enforce strong, comprehensive highway safety laws."
AHAS noted that there are economic consequences as well. About 5.5 million crashes occur each year, resulting in an average of 33,000 deaths and 2.3 million injuries. That costs the nation about $230 billion in medical services, lost productivity, health and auto insurance, emergency services and other associated expenses, according to AHAS.
"For every person, every year, this adds up to a 'crash tax' of $730," said Georges C. Benjamin, executive director for the American Public Health Association.
AHAS, which is based in Washington, D.C., detailed the findings in "2014 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws," its annual report grading states on motoring safety. The study gave poor marks to several states for lagging behind others in implementing a group of 15 rigorous statutes controlling everything from distracted and drunken driving (including ignition locking devices for all offenders) to the use of seat belts and child booster seats.
The study made several recommendations, including:
In evaluating overall highway safety, these states received a "red" grade, the lowest:
The states given a "green" grade for having safer roads than most include:
The other 29 states received a "yellow" rating, which AHAS said indicates "moderately positive performance but with numerous gaps still in their highway safety laws."
The report did applaud West Virginia, Hawaii, Maryland, Utah, Texas, Virginia, Maine and Tennessee for adopting laws in 2013. They include requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets; mandatory seat belt use for drivers and passengers; and more comprehensive GDLs.
An array of sobering numbers
To support its case, AHAS presented various 2012 traffic statistics -- many involving younger victims -- gathered from government sources:
There are also auto insurance repercussions when streets and freeways are hazardous. Fewer safe highways lead to more accidents, which in turn lead to higher premiums for many drivers.
If you're at fault, one car accident on your driving record may raise your car insurance rate by 10 to 40 percent, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com. But 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 more than $1,000.
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