A study from 2017 may provide some insight into why traffic fatalities are on the rise. The report, which looked at traffic safety laws across the nation, found that states with poor driving laws have the worst driving records.
South Dakota, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana and Missouri were among the states with the worst records. In Virginia, which could do more to improve its driver safety laws, drivers are required to wear seat belts, but they can’t be pulled over for not wearing one.
In Texas, only drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from texting and driving. The study says an all-driver texting ban is among the 15 safety laws that every state should have.
South Dakota scored lowest on the list, having just two of the 15 recommended safety laws. The report gave low scores to 17 states, which it says are “dangerously behind” in the adoption of the recommended laws.
Poor Traffic Safety Laws May be Making Roads Deadlier
Poor traffic safety laws may be contributing to the increase in car accident deaths. In the first nine months of 2016, the National Highway Safety Administration estimated that 28,000 people died in car crashes. That same year, 821 fatalities occurred in Indiana alone. So far in 2018, 601 people have been killed in car accidents in South Carolina.
In Colorado, where drivers cannot be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt, seat belt use is still below the national average of 90%. Last year, there were 222 unbuckled fatalities in the state, which accounted for about half of the 410 total passenger vehicle deaths in the state. Seat belt use increased 2.5% in 2018 after three years of declining. Usage is up to 86.3% this year, the first improvement since 2015. But the state still lags far behind the national average.
Part of the problem is that drivers can’t be pulled over just for not wearing a seat belt. Drivers can only be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt if they are pulled over for another traffic violation.
The state does get two areas right. Drivers and passengers under the age of 18 must wear a seat belt at all times, and this is a primary enforcement. Teen drivers can be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt and adult drivers can also be pulled over if a child under 16 years of age is not wearing a seat belt or is improperly restrained.
While some states are behind on adopting optimal traffic safety laws, others are taking steps to improve roadway safety. In that report, Rhode Island ranked highest, with Delaware, Washington, D.C., Washington state, Oregon and Louisiana following closely behind in driving safety.
Making seat belt laws a primary enforcement can go a long way in lowering traffic fatalities. In many states, unbuckled fatalities account for about half of all passenger vehicle fatalities. Putting laws into place to reduce instances of distracted driving is also important. A complete ban on texting while driving may get more drivers to put down their phones when they’re behind the wheel.