Traffic Safety Trends | State Legislative Action 2015



drive safely signIn 2014, 32,675 people died in crashes, and approximately 2.3 million people were injured in motor vehicle crashes.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, "The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes 2010,"  the economic costs of crashes in 2010 totaled $277 billion. Traffic safety is a costly and important public health issue for many people, including state legislators.

In 2015, state legislators debated more than 1,500 traffic safety proposals. Issues 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 regional office contact information). All bills discussed in this report can be found in the NCSL - NHTSA Traffic Safety Legislative Tracking Database.  


  • Federal Update. On Dec. 4, 2015, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. The FAST Act is a five-year bill that provides authority and funding for federal surface transportation programs. The bill approved $305 billion in funding for surface transportation programs through 2020. The FAST Act includes highway traffic safety provisions in Title IV. More information about specific FAST Act provisions can be found in the corresponding issue areas under Federal Action.
  • Occupant Protection. Every state except New Hampshire has an adult safety belt law. During the 2015 state legislative sessions, 27 states considered bills related to seat belts. All states and the District of Columbia have child restraint laws that require children of certain ages and sizes to ride in appropriate child safety restraint systems. In 2015, 17 states debated child passenger protection legislation, and four states passed laws. Other occupant protection issues considered by legislatures included penalties for smoking in cars with children and leaving children in unattended vehicles.
  • Impaired Driving. In 2014, 9,967 people were killed in alcohol-impaired traffic crashes, accounting for 31 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities. In 2015, lawmakers in 49 states introduced approximately 350 bills related to impaired driving. Lawmakers considered legislation ranging from stricter penalties for high blood alcohol content and repeat offenders, increased use of ignition interlocks, comprehensive and alcohol treatment programs. In addition to alcohol-impaired driving, drugged driving is implicated in an increasing number of crashes and fatalities. A number of states considered legislation related to drug-impaired driving in 2015.
  • Distracted Driving. The National Highway Safety Administration defines distraction as a specific type of inattention from the driving task to focus on some other activity. NHTSA reports 3,154 people were killed and an estimated 424,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving in 2013. No state completely bans all phones for all drivers. State legislation usually addresses a range of issues, including particular wireless technologies and specific drivers.
  • Driver Licensing. All states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories license more than 211 million drivers who represent roughly 88 percent of those eligible to drive. Each year, state legislatures debate hundreds of bills related to various aspects of driver's licensing, including REAL ID, unlicensed driving, military designations, medical designations and immigrant driver’s licenses.
  • Older Drivers. The age of 14.5 percent of the total U.S. resident population in 2014—approximately 46.2 million people—was 65 and older. While older drivers have lower rates of crashes reported to the police, the likelihood of involvement in a fatal crash goes up after age 70. Nine states considered legislation on older driver issues in 2015, with Nevada and Virginia enacting new laws. A number of states considered legislation dealing with medical fitness to drive.
  • Teen Drivers. Young, inexperienced drivers are significantly over represented in fatal crashes, according to NHTSA. To mitigate this public health issue, every state has enacted some type of law intended to protect these drivers as they develop skill and experience. Commonly referred to as graduated driver’s licensing (GDL), the laws provide a gradual process for teen drivers to gain driving experience. In 2015, 29 states considered nearly 100 bills related to teen driving. Legislation related to topics including GDL, school enrollment and academic performance, distracted driving and impairment.
  • Aggressive Drivers. Running red lights or stop signs, speeding, preventing other drivers from passing and illegal driving on the shoulder are examples of aggressive driving. Aggressive driving continues to be a topic of legislation around the country. Eleven states have aggressive driving laws. California and Utah have reckless driving laws that include behaviors similar to those other states classify as aggressive. A handful of states considered legislation related to aggressive driving in 2015.
  • Speeding. In 2014, 9,262 traffic fatalities occurred in speeding-related crashes. While the number of speeding-related fatalities have decreased in recent years, speeding remained a factor in 28.3 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in 2014. Forty-three states considered 114 bills related to speed limits in 2015. Areas of state action include increasing speed limits, lowering speed limits, modifying penalties and work and school zones, among others.
  • Automated Enforcement. Deliberately running a red light is a common and serious violation. Red light cameras and photo radar allow local law enforcement agencies to enforce traffic laws remotely. Approximately 450 communities have right light programs, and about 140 communities have speed camera programs. Some states prohibit use of automated enforcement altogether. 
  • Motorcycle Safety. The number of registered motorcycles in the United States is slightly below historic highs, with more than 8.4 million registered motorcycles as of 2013 according to the U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Alcohol use is a major factor in motorcyclist deaths and motorcyclist fatalities continued to be higher in states that do not have universal helmet laws. Legislatures continued to debate, but for the most part did not enact, motorcycle helmet requirements in 2015. State laws were enacted in 2015 regarding motorcycle licensing and education, requirements for motorcycle operation and equipment, proceeding through traffic signals that do not detect a motorcycle’s presence and defining autocycles.
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety. Nationally, pedestrian deaths increased from 4,735 in 2013 to 4,884 in 2014. Bicyclist deaths however, decreased slightly, to 726 in 2014, compared to 743 in 2013. States continued to enact a wide variety of laws, programming and funding strategies in 2015 to increase safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. The most common approaches in 2015 were to adopt or strengthen safe bicycle passing laws, refine bicycle operation requirements, improve pedestrian safety tactics, and support bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure development.
  • Slow and Medium Speed Vehicles. In 2015, 18 states passed 25 pieces of legislation related to slow- and medium-speed vehicles. Four states enacted legislation related to golf carts, and at least nine considered legislation on the topic. Five states enacted legislation related to mopeds. Other topics of legislation include electrically motorized boards, ATVs and mini-trucks.

Additional Resources