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Mixed results for Northeast states in latest Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws report

Advocates For Highway & Auto Safety

New York gets good marks in a new report that grades states on highway safety laws.

With U.S. highway fatalities increasing, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety have released their annual report, the 59-page Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws. The report examined laws that protect passenger safety, as well as impaired and distracted driving.

States are graded red, yellow and green, based on the number of optimal traffic safety laws enacted. Red is poor, yellow "needs improvement" and green is good. Advocates Senior Director of Advocacy and state legislation Tara Gill says New York is one of eight states that scored a "green" rating.

Gill said "New York was elevated to a green light rating last year, after it, you know, enacted a rear seatbelts requirement, it boosted the state up. So New York is doing a great job in putting laws on the books to prevent traffic crashes, fatalities, injuries."

New York saw 931 vehicle fatalities in 2019. The state's annual economic cost due to motor vehicle crashes is pegged at $18.4 billion.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving National President Alex Otte is sounding the alarm concerning “alcohol-to-go,” the pandemic-inspired measure allowing businesses to sell alcoholic drinks in take-out form. It expired last June in New York, where Governor Kathy Hochul has pledged to reinstate and permanently legalize it.

"11 states need to strengthen their laws to meet federal requirements," Otte said. "Open container laws and their enforcement are especially important now, when states have temporarily or permanently passed laws that allow restaurants to sell alcohol to go. While MADD is not opposed to curbside sales of alcohol, we do want to make sure that those containers are sealed and placed in a trunk and by far out of the driver’s reach. State legislators can do their part by passing laws that keep their community safe and spare families the trauma of being impacted by someone else's choice to drive impaired."

Gill says New York should also take measures to bolster laws to protect novice drivers by enacting stronger restriction for use of cell phones when behind the wheel.

Connecticut and Massachusetts scored in the yellow zone: "That means they're sort of in the middle," said Gill. "They've enacted, you know, some of the laws we recommend, but there are still a fair amount of laws that they could enact to upgrade safety on the roads."

Gill recommends Connecticut, which racked up 249 vehicle fatalities in 2019, enact an all-rider motorcycle helmet law, while Massachusetts, which had 334 deaths, could benefit from stricter seatbelt law enforcement.

With 47 fatalities in 2019, Gill says Vermont received a red rating in the roadmap report.

"One of the laws that we would most like to see Vermont enact is to upgrade its seatbelt law to primary enforcement," said Gill. "Right now, it has both a front and a rear seat requirement. But it's secondary enforcement. And when folks think that, you know, the police, the police can stop them for non use of seatbelt, they are more likely to buckle up. So primary enforcement just means it's a higher level of deterrence. And people tend to follow the law. It doesn't necessarily mean there will be you know, more traffic stops. That's not what we're advocating for."

Gill notes Vermont also needs to upgrade its child passenger safety laws, including a stronger booster seat law.

Here's a link to the full report.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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