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Report: Az has 2nd worst traffic-safety laws in nation
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Report: Az has 2nd worst traffic-safety laws in nation

Only S.D. outranks state for failing to adopt basic rules, group finds

  • Jacqueline Gillan, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said her group’s report that said Arizona had the second-worst traffic laws in the nation should be 'a call to action' for the state to pass tougher laws.
    Stephanie Snyder/Cronkite News ServiceJacqueline Gillan, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said her group’s report that said Arizona had the second-worst traffic laws in the nation should be 'a call to action' for the state to pass tougher laws.

WASHINGTON — Arizona got a failing grade Wednesday from a national highway safety group that said the state has adopted fewer than five of the 15 laws the group considers basic to traffic safety.

Only South Dakota ranked lower than Arizona in the ninth annual report from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. It rated Arizona poorly for its failure to adopt strict laws on teen driving, seat belt and motorcycle helmet use, and distracted driving, among others.

Arizona has “some of the weakest laws and yet they’re surrounded by states that have better laws,” said Jacqueline Gillan, the group’s president. “This is really a call to action for Arizona to step up and start passing these laws.”

Her group said crashes killed more than 700 people in Arizona in 2010, at a cost estimated by state officials at $2.7 billion.

“It doesn’t make sense when you look at the economic cost and carnage on the Arizona highways that they are still ignoring some really effective public health interventions that could really bring down deaths and injuries and costs for the state,” Gillan said.

But state officials challenged the report, saying the laws it identified as crucial “aren’t going to help us.”

A report on the website of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety says traffic deaths in Arizona of unrestrained vehicle occupants, alcohol-impaired drivers, motorcyclists without helmets and teen drivers all fell from 2006-2009. This in a state that does not have the strict laws for enforcing seat-belt use, requiring motorcycle helmets and restricting teen drivers that the highway safety group says are needed.

“We are following what our indicators are and pushing to do safety programs to save and prevent tragedies,” said Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “We don’t have to consult or react to anything the rest of the country does.”

Gutier said traffic deaths across the nation have fallen steadily in recent years. That trend is mirrored in Arizona, where the number of highway fatalities went from 1,293 in 2006 to 807 in 2009, according to both the state and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The number fell again to 762 in Arizona in 2010, according to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety report.

Gutier and Gillan agreed that part of the decline has been driven by the poor economy, which made gas relatively more expensive and resulted in fewer drivers on the road.

But Gutier said there are other factors, noting that Arizona was one of five states to earn a five-star ranking from Mothers Against Drunk Driving in a report released in November. That ranking was based on drunken driving countermeasures, such as ignition interlocks and sobriety checkpoints.

“Law enforcement has done a fantastic job in Arizona,” of enforcing laws already on the books, Gutier said.

The report by Gillan’s group did score Arizona relatively well for its drunken driving laws, noting that the state had almost all of the recommended restrictions: a ban on open containers, a requirement for ignition-interlock devices for drunken drivers and stiffened penalties for drunken drivers who endanger children. The state only got half-credit for its law requiring blood-alcohol tests on drivers killed in crashes; the report prefers that those tests also be required on drivers who survive crashes in which someone is killed.

Gutier said his office plans to allocate the majority of its funding to preventing traffic fatalities.

“I’m questioning the whole ranking and the whole report,” he said.

Ray “Still Ray” Fitzgerald, chairman of the 7,000 members Arizona Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs, said it would be difficult for state lawmakers to require that all motorcyclists wear a helmet, which the report would prefer.

Fitzgerald, a motorcyclist of more than 40 years, said motorcycle-rights organizations like his support a “pro-choice” stance on helmets. The Prescott resident said he wears a helmet  when it snows.

“I’m not against wearing helmets, I’m against being told that I have to,” Fitzgerald said.

15 live-saving traffic laws

Based on government and private research, crash data and state experience, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety has determined the following traffic safety laws to be priorities in reducing motor vehicle deaths and injuries. States are only given full credit if their law meets the optimal provisions as defined below. Half credit is given to states with booster seat, some teen driving, and some impaired driving laws that only partially meet Advocates' definition. Also please note that in addition to giving no credit if a state has no law in place, Advocates gives no credit for any law that is subject to secondary enforcement or to GDL laws that allow for an exemption based on driver education.

Adult occupant protection

Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Law - Allows law enforcement officers to stop and ticket the driver when they see a violation of the seat belt law for front seat occupants. No other violation need occur first to take action. Ratings are based on front seat occupants only. No state without this law may re- ceive a "green" overall rating.

All-Rider Motorcycle Helmet Law - Requires all motorcycle riders, regardless of age, to use a helmet that meets U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) standards or face a fine.

Child passenger safety

Booster Seat Law - Requires, at a minimum, that children ages four through seven be placed in a child restraint system (booster seat) that is certified to meet U.S. DOT safety standards. States are given half credit for booster seat laws that do not cover children through age seven.

Teen driving

Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs allow novice teen drivers to learn to drive under lower risk conditions, and consist of a learner's stage, an intermediate stage and then an unrestricted driving license. The learner's stage requires teen drivers to complete a minimum number of months of adult-supervised driving in order to move to the next phase and drive unsupervised. The intermediate stage restricts teens from driving in high-risk situations for a specified period of time before receiving a full license. Advo- cates rates state GDL laws on seven key safety components identified in research and data analysis:

Learner's Stage: Minimum Age 16 for Learner's Permit - A beginning teen driver is prohibited from obtaining a learner's permit until the age of 16. States have not been given credit if the law allows for a beginning driver to obtain a learner's permit before the age of 16.

Learner's Stage: Six-Month Holding Period Provision - A beginning teen driver must be supervised by an adult licensed driver at all times during the learner's stage. If the learner remains citation-free for six months, he or she may progress to the intermediate stage. States have not been given credit if the length of the holding period is less than six months, or if there is a reduction in the length of the holding period for drivers who take a driver education course.

Learner's Stage: 30-50 Hours of Supervised Driving Provision - A beginning teen driver must re- ceive at least 30-50 hours of behind-the-wheel training with an adult licensed driver during the learner's stage. States have not been given credit if the number of required supervised driving hours is less than 30, or if there is a reduction in the required number of hours of supervised driving for drivers who take a driver education course.

Intermediate Stage: Nighttime Driving Restriction Provision - Unsupervised driving should be prohibited from at least 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Half credit is awarded for nighttime restrictions that do not fully meet this criterion.

Intermediate Stage: Passenger Restriction Provision - This provision limits the number of teenage passengers who may legally ride with a teen driver without adult supervision. The optimal limit is no more than one non-familial teenage passenger. Half credit is awarded for passenger restrictions that do not fully meet this criterion.

Cell Phone Restriction - This restriction prohibits all use of cellular devices (hand-held, hands-free and text messaging) by beginning teen drivers, except in the case of an emergency. States are only given credit if the provision lasts for the entire duration of the GDL program (both learner's and intermediate stages). Half-credit is given to a state if the cell phone restriction bans hand-held, hands-free, or text messaging, but not all three.

Age 18 for Unrestricted License - A teen driver is prohibited from obtaining an unrestricted license until the age of 18, and one or both of the nighttime and passenger restrictions must last until age 18. States have not been given credit if teen drivers can obtain an unrestricted license before the age of 18.

Impaired driving

Ignition Interlock Devices (IID) - This law mandates the installation of ignition interlock devices on the vehicles of any convicted drunk driving offender. Advocates has given credit for laws that require the use of ignition interlock devices for all offenders. Several states (CO, IL and OR) have also been given credit for having laws that provide strong incentives for all offenders to use ignition interlock de- vices. Note: While Advocates has given half-credit in previous years for laws that require the use of ignition interlock devices only for repeat offenders, states with these laws are no longer receiving credit in this report in order to emphasize the importance of IIDs for all convicted drunk driving offenders.

Child Endangerment - This law enhances an existing penalty for an impaired driving offender who endangers a minor. No credit is given if this law applies only to drivers who are under 21 years of age.

Mandatory Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Testing for Killed and Surviving Drivers - These separate statutes require the BAC testing of the driver of a vehicle involved in a fatal crash regardless of whether the driver survived the crash or was killed in the crash. Full credit is given for laws that require both. Half-credit is given if a state requires testing in one case, but not both.

Open Container - This law prohibits open containers of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehi- cle. To comply with federal requirements, the law must: prohibit both possession of any open alcoholic beverage container and the consumption of alcohol from an open container; apply to the entire passen- ger area of any motor vehicle; apply to all vehicle occupants except for passengers of buses, taxi cabs, limousines or persons in the living quarters of motor homes; apply to vehicles on the shoulder of public highways; and, require primary enforcement of the law. State laws are counted in this report only if they are in compliance with the federal law and regulation.

Distracted driving

All-Driver Text Messaging Restriction - This law prohibits all drivers from entering, reading or otherwise retrieving data from any handheld or electronic data communication device, except in the case of an emergency.

— Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

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