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Remarks before the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Washington, DC
Deborah A. P. Hersman
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Washington, DC

Thank you for inviting me to participate in this very important press conference to highlight the limited progress States have made over the last year in improving highway safety.  I am honored to represent the National Transportation Safety Board and to stand here with Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Representative Dan Frankel, who has championed motorcycle helmet legislation in his home State of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Wayne Moore, a familiar face from Meharry Medical College, with whom the Safety Board has worked on primary enforcement legislation in several States across the country.  I also want to extend special recognition to Avi Edelman and Adam Yalowitz; it is wonderful to see two high school students be so proactive in addressing the leading cause of death for teenagers, motor vehicle crashes.

Improving highway safety is paramount at the Safety Board.  While the Board investigates crashes in all modes of transportation, we know that over 90 percent of transportation-related fatalities occur on our nation’s highways.   For far too long we, as a society, have tolerated the annual death of about 43,000 people: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, friends, and colleagues.  The legislative leaders in the States can stop this needless loss of life by making highway safety a priority.  The 2007 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws identifies some very simple measures that States can take to reduce the tragedies that occur every day on our nation’s highways.

Getting adults, teens, and children to buckle up and keeping impaired drivers off the road are two of the biggest ways to reduce highway fatalities.  We know that more people buckle up when States have strong seat belt laws that authorize primary enforcement and apply to all vehicle seating positions.  We know that more children are buckled up when the driver is buckled up.  And we know that seat belts are the best defense against impaired drivers.  But it would be even better if we could prevent those impaired driving crashes from occurring in the first place.  That requires a comprehensive approach of laws, enforcement, and treatment to help impaired drivers, particularly hard core drinking drivers, change their behavior.   

I want to commend Advocates for its continued efforts to keep highway safety in the forefront!  The annual Roadmap shows both how far we have come and how far we have left to go in better protecting our family, friends, and communities.

Like Advocates, the Safety Board maintains a list of Most Wanted safety improvements.  And like Advocates’ list, primary seat belt enforcement, impaired driving, teen driving, and child occupant protection are at the top of the Board’s Most Wanted list.  We know that too many teens are dying or killing other teens because they lack the experience and maturity to operate motor vehicles safety.  And while the nation has made substantial progress in protecting our youngest vehicle occupants, too many toddlers and young children are being killed because parents do not know and laws do not reflect best practices in child occupant protection.

At our 2006 annual meeting to review the Most Wanted list, the Board determined that only 

  • Twenty-five States have not enacted primary seat belt enforcement laws.
  • Thirty-five States and 3 territories lack laws requiring that children between the ages of 4 and 8 use booster seats.
  • Four States do not have a 3-stage graduated licensing system for young drivers.
  • Twenty-seven States lack a passenger restriction that meets the Board's criteria.
  • Thirty-nine States lack laws that prohibit the use of communication devices by young novice drivers.
  • And while 26 States and the District of Columbia have adopted one or more elements of the Board’s model program to reduce hard core drinking driving, only 5 States have developed programs sufficient for the Board to consider the recommendation fully implemented.

The Safety Board is committed to working with Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the other dedicated individuals with whom I share the podium today.  We will continue to promote sound legislation and enforcement of those laws, and we will take our message on the road, directly to the States, to encourage States to enact comprehensive highway safety legislation.  Together, we can do it.  Thank you.



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