Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Chief Thomas Manger (left), NHTSA Administator Mark Rosekind (middle) and APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD (right) advocated for improved highway safety at the release of the 2016 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws report in Washington, D.C. Photo by Daniel Greenberg/APHA

Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Chief Thomas Manger (left), NHTSA Administator Mark Rosekind (middle) and APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD (right) advocated for improved highway safety at the release of the 2016 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws report in Washington, D.C. Photo by Daniel Greenberg/APHA

Highway and auto safety improvements have been one of public health’s greatest victories over the past decade. But the number of people that died on American roads in 2015 increased by more than 8 percent, according to early results — while legislative activity in passing state auto and highway safety laws has decreased.

The release of the 2016 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws shows that states need to adopt 319 new laws to meet basic safety criteria. The 13th annual report from Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety — an APHA partner — requires “urgent action,” according to speakers at a Thursday news event in Washington, D.C.

“We don’t lack solutions, but far too often we lack the political will to pass these safety laws,” said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD. “And the most amazing thing is that people actually want to push back against the progress that we’ve made by undermining the regulatory environment. Why would anyone in their right mind not want to save almost 33,000 lives each and every year?

“So we’re here to make a strong push during this legislative season — to take these laws that we know work and save lives.”

Among the 15 laws recommended in the report are:

  • primary seat belt enforcement for front and rear passengers;
  • all-rider motorcycle helmets;
  • booster seats;
  • graduated drivers licenses;
  • impaired driving restrictions; and
  • all-driver text messaging restrictions.

However, only eight of these laws were enacted in 2015. Some states have even repealed highway safety laws, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Mark Rosekind.

“I’m trained as a scientist and they would never let us do this in a scientific study,” Rosekind said. “But we do that to our friends, family. We need to enact every single one of these laws. Until every state adopts these straightforward, known-to-be-effective measures, people are at risk.”

Rosekind added that NHTSA will be hosting regional meetings around the country looking for new approaches and new tools to improve highway safety. Check out APHA’s transportation and health page to learn more about policies that improve public health.