Thank you for inviting me to participate in this very important press conference to highlight the limited progress States have made in improving highway safety. I am honored to represent the National Transportation Safety Board and to stand here with the Emergency Nurses Association and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety to release ENA’s National Scorecard on State Roadway Laws.
Improving highway safety is paramount at the Safety Board. While the Board investigates crashes in all modes of transportation, we know that over 95 percent of transportation-related fatalities occur on our nation’s highways. For far too long we, as a society, have tolerated 41,000 fatalities annually: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, friends, and colleagues. The legislative leaders in the States can stop this needless loss of life by making highway safety a priority. The ENA 2008 Scorecard identifies 13 critical measures that States can take to reduce the tragedies that occur every minute of the day on our nation’s highways.
The items on this Scorecard will reduce crashes and save lives when they are adopted. They have not been randomly selected, but instead are based on the real-world experience in the States. In each case, there is solid research demonstrating their effectiveness. For example,
- Seat belts are the number one defense against motor vehicle injuries and fatalities. NHTSA estimates that seat belts saved more than 15,000 lives in 2006. And, States that strengthen their seat belt laws see increased belt use.
- We know that too many teens are dying or killing other teens because they lack the experience and maturity to operate motor vehicles safety. A disproportionate number of highway crashes involve drivers age 15 through 20, young people who have only recently obtained their licenses to drive. Evaluations in the States have consistently shown that comprehensive graduated driver licensing programs are effective in reducing teen driver involvement in both injury crashes and in fatal crashes.
- 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. A 2007 study found that children age 4 through 7 are far more likely to be restrained if their State law requires booster seat use.
- Deaths among motorcycle riders are soaring to record numbers – we were at 5,100 last year. There can be no debate that helmets reduce serious head injuries. And yet, many riders in States without universal helmet requirements don’t use their helmets. Studies of states that have repealed their mandatory helmet laws have shown that fewer motorcycle rider fatalities would have occurred had the laws not been repealed.
- Almost 13,000 people were killed by drunk drivers in 2007. Ignition interlock devices, which prevent an operator from driving a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, should be an important part of every State’s program to reduce these deaths. Studies have shown that ignition interlock devices are effective in preventing alcohol-impaired driving when they are used on vehicles operated by those with a prior DWI arrest.
The Safety Board makes recommendations for safety improvements based on thorough, independent, and objective investigations. And, our recommendations are remarkably consistent with the elements on this scorecard.
It is important that emergency room nurses have identified highway safety as a priority and spoken out on the initiatives in their scorecard. They see first hand the tragic results of the continuing carnage on our highways. I commend ENA for its continued efforts to keep highway safety in the forefront. This Scorecard shows both how far we have come and how far we have left to go in better protecting our family, friends, and communities.
The Safety Board maintains a list of Most Wanted safety improvements that is similar to the elements on the Emergency Nurses Association scorecard. And like the Scorecard, primary seat belt enforcement, impaired driving, teen driving, and child occupant protection are key elements of the Board’s Most Wanted list.
The Safety Board is committed to working with the Emergency Nurses Association. 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.