Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2013

Anne Teigen, Douglas Shinkle 2/26/2014


man drivingIssues examined in this report include occupant protection, distracted driving, driver licensing, impaired driving, aggressive driving, speed limits, motorcycle helmets, automated enforcement, school bus safety, and pedestrian and bicycle safety. Tables and charts detailing state traffic safety laws are included; as are contacts and links for further information (Appendix A contains National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] regional office contact information). All bills discussed in this report can be found in the NCSL - NHTSA Traffic Safety Legislative Tracking Database.

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Occupant Protection. Approximately 50 states considered bills to strengthen seat belt laws or child passenger protection laws in 2013. These proposals included efforts to enact primary enforcement of existing seat belt laws and to change height and weight requirements for child restraint use.

Impaired Driving Issues. In 2013, lawmakers in 48 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  riving and driver cell phone use. In 2013, legislators in 40 states considered 175 driver distraction bills.

Driver Licensing. Each year, state legislatures debate hundreds of bills relating to various aspects of driver licensing, including REAL ID, unlicensed driving, driver’s licenses for military veterans, older drivers and teen drivers.

Speed Limits. In 2013, 36 states considered bills regarding speed, including increasing fines for speeding, setting speed limits, and punishing serious speeding offenders in school or work zones.

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.

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 2013, legislators in 26 states debated nearly 100 bills regarding automated speed and red light enforcement.

Motorcycle Safety. During the 2013 legislative session, 25 states considered approximately 100 bills related to motorcycle helmets or rider training.

School Bus Safety. In 2013, 106 bills regarding school bus safety were considered in state legislatures across the country. Many dealt with penalties for drivers who illegally pass school buses and licensing procedures for school bus drivers.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety. Pedestrians and bicyclists are among the most vulnerable users of roadways. In 2013, 40 states considered more than 200 bills regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety. The most prevalent approaches in 2013 included increased fines for injuring or killing a vulnerable user, education requirements for motorists on interacting with pedestrians and bicyclists, strategies to increase safety near schools and safe bicycle passing laws.

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