AAA Pushes for New Driver Safety Laws in 2012

AAA logoAAA officials announced Tuesday that they expect lawmakers in as many as 15 states to consider legislation in 2012 barring drivers from text messaging behind the wheel.

Five states passed anti-texting laws last year, boosting the number that prohibit motorists from sending or receiving texts or accessing the Internet to 35. Officials with the motor club say they think a complete ban on all cell phone use by drivers recommended last month by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) could prompt legislative action at the state level.

“Few states have given serious legislative consideration to full cell phone bans, but AAA expects continued progress in our campaign to pass laws banning texting while driving in all 50 states, as well as enacting full wireless bans for new teen drivers and laws that increase penalties for drivers who crash or commit violations while driving distracted,” Kathleen Marvaso, AAA vice president of public affairs, said in a news release.

AAA identified lobbying for tougher no-texting laws as one of its legislative priorities this year, along with a push for states to enact tighter restrictions on teen drivers and require that children 8 and under be restrained in booster seats while in vehicles.

NTSB last month urged lawmakers nationwide to implement bans on all nonemergency use of portable electronic devices by drivers, except for GPS and other devices that are designed to assist with driving.

The NTSB board stated that enforcement of laws prohibiting texting from the driver’s seat could reduce the number of crashes on the nation’s roadways. Board members also called on the makers of portable electronic devices to develop features that would discourage consumers from using them from the driver’s seat.

According to NTSB and other safety officials, distracted driving—which can include behaviors such as texting or talking on cell phones, applying makeup or changing the radio station—was involved in nearly 5,500 fatal crashes and 450,000 injuries in 2009.

But even in states that outlaw texting behind the wheel, penalties vary widely. Under the terms of a new Pennsylvania law, for example, motorists caught texting while driving face a $50 fine.

Meanwhile, in New York, stepped-up legislation passed last year means drivers who violate the state’s no-texting law must pay fines of up to $150 and have three points added to their driving record, which could in turn cause increases in their monthly auto insurance premiums. The law also increased the penalty for talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving from two to three points.

No state bans all cell phone use, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, (GHSA), but nine states and Washington, D.C., prohibit the use of hand-held phones while driving, and many other states prohibit phone use–including texting–by new drivers and school bus operators.

AAA officials also hope to see more states enact tough restrictions on teenage drivers in the form of graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs.

Safety officials say those programs, which delay full licensure of teen drivers until they get greater experience under low-risk conditions, can drastically reduce the dangers faced—and posed by—novice motorists. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), comprehensive GDL systems are associated with reductions of 38 percent in fatal crashes and 40 percent in nonfatal accidents among 16-year-old drivers.

All 50 states have GDL programs, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but those programs are not uniformly rigorous.

A bill that was attached last year to a federal transportation reauthorization package—the Safe Teen And Novice Driver Protection, or STANDUP Act—would establish minimum standards for state GDL systems and attach federal highway-aid funding to those standards.

The bill would authorize $22 million annually for two years to train state officials, publish information about new GDL laws and carry out traffic-safety programs.

A study released last month by the National Safety Council and the Allstate Foundation estimated that the U.S. could save more than 2,000 lives and about $13.6 billion a year by adopting uniformly tough restrictions on teenage drivers in every state.

According to the CDC, drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older motorists to be involved in crashes. Vehicle accidents account for 1 in 3 teen deaths nationwide, making them the leading cause of death for that age group.

Crashes involving young drivers also are to blame for billions of dollars in economic costs each year,  according to the CDC. And teens’ greater likelihood of crashing has financial implications even for those lucky enough to avoid serious injury, forcing many families with teen drivers to turn to high risk auto insurance companies for policies.

AAA officials say just six states—Delaware, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma and West Virginia—have GDL systems that sufficiently restrict nighttime driving by teens, the number of passengers they may legally bring along and requirements for practicing driving.

AAA is also pressing for more states to adopt booster seat requirements for young passengers. Nineteen states either do not require that the safety devices be used or have regulations that fall short of safety experts’ recommendations, according to the organization.

AAA is calling as well for states to step up penalties for drivers who do not use seat belts, including allowing for primary enforcement, under which law enforcement officers would be authorized to pull motorists over for no offense other than not wearing a seat belt. And the motor club wants Hawaii and the District of Columbia to pass laws requiring that drivers slow down and pull to the right of the road when passing an emergency vehicle that is responding to an incident.

Every state but Hawaii has a “move-over law” on the books, according to AAA.

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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