Traffic Safety and Public Health: State Legislative Action, 2011

traffic jamFebruary 2012, No. 36
By Anne Teigen and Douglas Shinkle

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This report summarizes the many bills regarding traffic safety issues that were considered by state legislatures during the 2011 legislative sessions. It also provides information about current traffic safety issues.

NCSL can provide expert testimony to legislative committees on topics related to traffic safety and injury prevention. Contact Anne Teigen.

Occupant Protection. Nearly 30 states considered bills to strengthen seat belt laws in 2011. These proposals included efforts to enact primary enforcement of existing seat belt laws and to change requirements for child restraint use.

Impaired Driving Issues. In 2011, lawmakers in 45 states introduced more than 400 bills related to impaired driving. They considered legislation related to stricter penalties for high blood alcohol concentration (BAC), ignition interlocks, breath testing procedures, treatment and drugged driving.

Distracted Driving. Since 2000, legislatures in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have considered legislation related to distracted driving and driver cell phone use. In 2011, legislators in 37 states considered 160 driver distraction bills.

Driver’s Licensing. Each year, state legislatures debate hundreds of bills relating to various aspects of driver licensing, including REAL ID, unlicensed driving, older drivers and teen drivers. In 2010, 40 states debated more than 300 bills relating to driver’s licensing.

Aggressive Driving. Laws in 10 states penalize aggressive drivers. Hand gestures, shouting, speeding, tailgating, driving on the shoulder, weaving in and out of traffic, or any combination of these activities may fall within the definition of aggressive driving.

Speed Limits. In 2011, 26 states considered bills regarding speed, including increasing fines for speeding, setting speed limits, and punishing serious speeding offenders.

Automated Enforcement. Because law enforcement agencies struggle with limited resources, many municipal governments have turned to automated enforcement to control speed and reduce red light violations without diverting law enforcement resources from other areas. During 2011, legislators in 28 states debated nearly 100 bills regarding automated enforcement.

Motorcycle Safety. During the 2011 legislative session, 39 states considered more than 120 bills related to motorcycle helmets or driver training.

School Bus Safety. In 2011, more than 100 bills regarding school bus safety were considered in state legislatures across the country. Many dealt with requiring children to wear seat belts on school buses and licensing procedures for school bus drivers.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety. For many pedestrians and bicyclists, safety is a major concern. In 2011, 43 states considered more than 150 bills regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety. Many addressed educating motorists about responsibilities at crosswalks and on roadways. Other proposals considered ways to increase safety near schools.

Low- and Medium-Speed Vehicles. Low-speed vehicles (LSVs) and golf carts operating on roadways, bike paths or sidewalks pose certain safety risks. It may be difficult for operators of larger vehicles to see such small vehicles on a roadway, and golf carts operated on sidewalks and bike paths risk collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists. In 2011, 20 states introduced bills pertaining to low- and medium-speed vehicles.