APHA President Adewale Troutman speaking at lectern

APHA President Adewale Troutman speaks during a news conference releasing the 2013 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws. Photo by Natalie McGill

While overall highway deaths and the fatality rate have declined in recent years, the trend is reversing. This should serve as a wake-up call to governors and state legislators, warn traffic safety advocates who today released an annual scorecard measuring state progress in adopting 15 basic traffic safety laws.

Preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that the first nine months of 2012 saw fatalities rise 7.1 percent over the previous year — the largest uptick in traffic fatalities since 1975. And every year, crashes lead to about 33,000 deaths and 2 million injuries costing more than $230 billion.

Amid this surge, fewer states showed progress in adopting safety laws last year, according to the 2013 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, published by Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety.

“The traffic safety progress we’ve made since 2005 is at risk of being undone,” said Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates, in a statement. “Several states have been moving backwards and most states are not moving at all to enact lifesaving laws.”

Michigan, for instance, repealed its 40-year-old all rider motorcycle helmet law and Maine considered legislation repealing its primary enforcement seat belt law, among other initiatives across the states.

“Last year, only 10 state highway safety laws were enacted, in contrast to 16 laws passed in 2011 and 22 laws passed in 2010,” Gillan said.

Among the data, the report shows that while more than half of passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2011 were not wearing seat belts, 18 states still do not have a primary enforcement belt law. And as the number of motorcycle fatalities has more than doubled since 1997 — due largely to head injury — 31 states lack an all-rider helmet law.

Cover of Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws reportOther safety benchmarks evaluated in the report include booster seat measures, restrictions and requirements for teen drivers, all-driver texting bans and tougher impaired driving laws.

“The most effective strategy to combat this public health problem is prevention,” said APHA President Adewale Troutman, who helped roll out the report. “Years of research show that driving sober, properly restraining our children in cars, protecting novice teen drivers and keeping our hands on the wheel and our eyes on the road will prevent crashes.”

“As lawmakers return to state capitals to begin their legislative sessions, this Roadmap Report should serve as their playbook for closing deadly gaps in their safety laws and afford families the public health protection these laws will guarantee,” said Troutman.