Mixed Messages About Highway Safety in Arizona
The seventh annual report, which was released earlier this year by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, reviewed data from all 50 states. It also included the District of Columbia. While the ranking was shocking, the fact that there has been a decrease in crashes from 2006-2009 is promising. Highway deaths are also down by more than 50 percent. The report sends mixed messages to drivers in Arizona. By looking deeper into the reports data it shows a different situation.
Ranking in the Red
Arizona has been given the classification within the Red Group, according to the 2010 Report Card. This means that this state has the least amount of laws and is the most lenient. There are 15 proposed model laws, but no single state has adopted all of them. States ranked within the Green group were stricter and had adopted many of the safety laws. The laws that were assessed included child passenger safety, impaired driving, adult occupant protection, and distracted driving.
The criterion used by the Advocates was a basic audit of the state laws. The 15 model laws were compared to the laws of each state. The three areas they focused on were text messaging while driving, GDL programs for teens, and ignition-interlock systems for drunk drivers. Arizona does not have a ban on text messaging while driving, and they are missing 6 of the 7 GDL regulations that are recommended. However, this state does have an ignition-interlock law.
The State of Safety
The good news is that Arizona does have some of the highway safety laws that were recommended by the Advocates. They gave the state credit for having 4.5 out of 15 laws.
*When it comes to drunk drivers, the state mandates ignition lock devices. They also mandate BAC testing (Blood Alcohol Concentration) where drivers are killed. They also increase penalties for child endangerment. These requirements are also placed on repeat offenders for open containers, and higher BAC levels. The state additionally conducts sobriety checkpoints monthly.
*When it comes to a GDL program for teen drivers, Arizona requires a teen to wait for 6-months before they can get their license. However, the other GDL elements fall short of the model laws and could be improved.
*When it comes to cell phones and distractions while driving, they are only banned for bus drivers. The general public has no laws regarding cell phone use while driving. Some cities have implemented bans for texting, but the state of Arizona has made no stand on this matter either.
*Motorcycle laws are another area where the state falls short of regulation. Anyone under the age of 18 must wear a helmet, but making all riders wear a helmet was repealed a long time ago.
*A police officer cannot stop a person who is not wearing a seat-belt in Arizona. However, if they stop them for speeding and they do not have a seat-belt on, they can issue a ticket as a secondary offense. The Advocates claims this should be a primary defense.
*The use of child restraints is mandatory for children under the age of 5 years old. Consequently, there are no laws regarding booster seats for older children. In fact, it is one of only three states without regulations of this nature.
Fatalities Not a Factor
While the Report Card looked at all the laws as their basis, they did not review the lower fatality rates when making the state's grade. If this data was taken into consideration, the state would have received a much better ranking. The downward trend in highway crashes has been going on for several years.
The Advocates made note that the fatality rates could have dropped due to a bad economy and reduced activity on the roadways. They did not give Arizona credit for passing productive highways safety legislation. Rather, they credited the vehicles better safety technologies for the decline in fatalities. They also considered the rise in gas prices and the push to use mass transportation as other causes of the fatalities decline.
They should have at least given police officers and state troopers some credit for enforcing speed limits, drunken driving laws, general safety, and seat belt restrictions. When it all boils down to it, there are many factors that help to decline the state's fatalities on the roadways. All of these various sources can get some of the credit for the reduction.
Beyond the Bad Grade
The ultimate goal was to print a publication that would inform the public about the state's laws. They give a good overview of key issues and what needs to be done to address these issues. Arizona did receive a bad rating, but they are working to increase their ratings and move beyond their bad grade. They have already increased the booster seat laws to include children up to 8 years of age, and this is just the start of their modifications on safety laws.