Report: Weak highway safety laws result in $750 'crash tax'

By Posted : 01/12/2012

highway crashFar too many states are not doing enough to protect motorists, says a prominent group that focuses on driving dangers and pushes for laws to curb them.

Too many states fail to restrict texting on cellphones, or do not require the use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets, according to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety "2012 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws."

The report draws on statistics and information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other government agencies.

"Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for all Americans between the ages of 5 and 34 -- every day, 90 people in this country don't make it home and needlessly die on our roads and highways," said Jacqueline Gillan, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety's president, at a recent press conference. "We have the solutions (to reduce) highway deaths and injuries and costs. Unfortunately, many of these safety laws are simply not considered an urgent priority by our elected leaders and end up in the legislative graveyard."

'Crash tax' of $750 per person for insurance and medical services

Mark Rosekind, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said at the press conference that there were 5.4 million crashes in 2010, with 32,885 deaths and more than 2.2 million injuries. The accidents, he added, cost the nation about $230 billion in medical services, auto insurance, health insurance, emergency services and other associated expenses.

This is equivalent to a "crash tax" of more than $750 for every person, according to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

"The numbers are staggering," Rosekind said.

In pushing for lawmaker action, the "2012 Roadmap" report makes several key points, including:

  • Texting - The NHTSA says there were 3,092 deaths in 2010 related to distracted driving, including text messaging. "Crash risk is dramatic -- as much as four times higher -- when a driver is using a mobile phone, with no significant safety difference between hand-held and hands-free phones observed in many studies," according to the report, which points out that 18 states do not restrict texting. Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Though it's not just teens texting, crashes involving teen drivers cost $42 billion annually.
  • Seat belts - There were 22,187 passenger deaths in accidents in 2010; 51 percent of the victims did not wear seat belts, according to the NHTSA. Further, the safety advocacy group notes that "deaths and injuries that result from non-use of seat belts cost society an estimated $60 billion annually in medical care, lost productivity and other injury-related costs … society bears 74 percent of the cost through increased insurance premiums, taxes and health care costs." Eighteen states do not make seat belts mandatory: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
  • Motorcycle helmets - In 2010, 4,502 motorcyclists were killed and 82,000 injured. Head injuries cause most deaths in motorcycle crashes, according to the Brain Injury Association of America, which adds that helmets can cut fatalities by as much as 37 percent. Helmets are believed to have saved more than 1,480 lives in 2009, according to federal figures. The CDC says motorcycle deaths and injuries cost $12 billion annually in hospital and other expenses. Eleven states do not require helmets: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

 

How they rate: States graded for safety law adoption

Among the 15 model laws Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety evaluated in its 2012 report (available at www.saferoads.org) are seat belt, booster seat and motorcycle helmet measures, in addition to restrictions and requirements for teen drivers, texting bans and tougher impaired driving laws.

In this year's report, states were given one of three ratings based on how many of the 15 optimal laws they have: green (good); yellow (caution - state needs improvement); and red (danger - state falls dangerously behind). Placement in one of the three ratings was based solely on whether or not a state had adopted a law as defined in the report, and not on any evaluation of a state's highway safety education or enforcement programs.

In 2011, two states - Maine and Rhode Island - improved their rating from yellow to green. North Dakota and Pennsylvania upgraded from red to yellow. In all, the District of Columbia and 17 states were rated in the highest rated category of green. States in the green category were California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Washington.

The states with the worst rating of red are Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming. All other states received a yellow rating indicating caution because there was a need for improvement due to gaps in traffic safety laws.

Car insurance takes a hit with high accident rates

Beyond the human toll and predicted rises in medical expenses and health insurance, there are car insurance repercussions when roads are not safe. Fewer safe highways lead to more accidents, which in turn lead to higher premiums for many drivers.

Depending on the collision, a driver's overall record and other factors associated with an accident, your coverage could rise by 40 percent or more, according to Consumer Reports in its 2010 "Money Adviser" issue. A 2008 study by Insurance.com showed that the average annual policy could increase from $157 to $458, depending on the accident.

 

 

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