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Statement at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety - Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws Press Conference, Washington DC
Mark R. Rosekind, PhD
Washington DC

On behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board, I want to thank the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety for providing us with an opportunity to support the ninth consecutive release of their annual Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws. Specifically, I want to acknowledge Jackie's leadership in making highway safety a national priority and commend her team for producing an outstanding report that is an invaluable safety tool. Identifying transportation safety targets and gauging progress are essential ingredients for empowering policy leaders and the public to effect meaningful changes that directly result in saving lives.

There are three topics that I will address this morning: taking action, providing tools, and setting goals.

First, states' actions save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce crashes. Unfortunately, as so clearly illustrated by the cover of the 2012 Roadmap, doing nothing comes with the very high cost of fatalities and injuries. Let's face it, people don't change their ways easily, even if it means greater personal safety or better health. We have, however, a very effective and proven formula for transportation safety that leads to effective change. This formula has three critical elements: strong laws, effective education, and high-visibility enforcement.

Strong laws are fundamental to transportation safety. While we may debate the role of government and its responsibilities to the nation's citizens, one thing is certain. The safety and protection of the traveling public is an elementary function of government at all levels – local, state, and federal. Reducing the number of deaths on our highways and roads must be a national priority with strong leadership at the state level. While education and high visibility enforcement work in conjunction with the laws needed to create these meaningful changes, strong laws, first and foremost, pave the way to transportation safety. This is particularly crucial at the state level.

Second, we need tools and information for effecting changes that address what actions should be taken to enhance safety on our roads. The 2012 Roadmap is an essential tool for identifying safety goals and measuring progress on 15 basic transportation safety laws proven to be effective. Some laws focus on preventing crashes and addressing impaired driving, teen driver safety, and distractions proactively. Obviously, any law that prevents a crash from occurring in the first place represents a very significant safety enhancement. Other laws focus on the consequences of a crash with adult occupant protection and child booster seats reducing fatalities and injuries.

For example, the single greatest protection against driver and passenger fatalities in a motor vehicle crash is the seat belt. The Advocates and the NTSB have recommended that states enact the primary enforcement of seat belt laws. A 2010 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that seat belt use is 12 percentage points higher in states with primary enforcement laws than in those with secondary enforcement. The Advocates' Roadmap indicates that the enactment of primary enforcement laws at the state level has resulted in a dramatic increase in the use of seat belts. In Kansas, seat belt use jumped by five percentage points immediately; in Illinois' seat belt use rate rose from 74 percent in 2002 to 80 percent in 2003; and Oklahoma's upgrade increased seat belt use from 48 percent in 1996 to 68 percent in 2001. Though primary enforcement of seat belt laws saves lives and prevents injuries, 18 states still need to take action.

The story is similar with booster seats. Though 47 states and the District of Columbia have enacted booster seat laws, only 32 of those jurisdictions have laws that provide protection for children ages four through seven as recommended by Advocates, the NTSB, NHTSA, and other child safety advocacy organizations.

Another example involves all-rider motorcycle helmet laws. Motorcycles only represent about three percent of the total number of vehicles on the road, yet motorcyclists comprise 14 percent of all vehicle fatalities -- 4,502 lives lost in 2010. Even though helmets are 37 percent effective at preventing fatalities in motorcycle accidents, only 20 states and the District of Columbia have enacted all-rider motorcycle helmet laws. Even more astonishing is that last year over half of those states tried to repeal their helmet laws even though there is clear evidence that motorcycle fatalities increase when laws are weakened or eliminated. The 2012 Roadmap gives us the necessary information on how much more work we need to do, where we need to do it, and what needs most attention across the nation.

Third, the goals outlined in the Roadmap represent an enormous opportunity for legislative action in 2012. The good news is that we already know the pathway to success and how to improve safety on our roads. Passing and enforcing the basic, strong and effective state highway safety laws identified by the 2012 Roadmap will prevent injuries, save lives, and make a difference. The NTSB has long recognized that motor vehicle crashes are responsible for more deaths than accidents in all other transportation modes combined. The numbers are staggering. In 2010, there were 5.4 million crashes; 32,885 people lost their lives and over 2.2 million people were injured. Aside from the tragic cost to human life and personal injury, these crashes came with a $230 billion pricetag to the nation. Advocates, the NTSB, and many others believe that America can and must do better than this. Many of the 348 new laws needed to meet the 2012 Roadmap goals are common sense measures acknowledging that strong, proven, and effective highway safety laws to protect lives should be enacted and enforced.

As we begin the new year, we commend the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety for highlighting the successful states that are raising the bar on highway safety because they provide best practices and examples of what can be achieved. We should also commend the Advocates for taking on the difficult task of bringing attention to those states that lag behind. With inaction, precious lives are at stake when it comes to road safety and the traveling public. The 2012 Roadmap is a critical tool that state, local, and federal governments; safety advocacy groups; and individuals should be using to meet or exceed the most important highway and road safety benchmarks. With the Roadmap in mind, let's all resolve to make 2012 the year that we take action, use the tools, and achieve the goals to reach our destinations safely.