Georges Benjamin holding up traffic safety reportMore than 37,400 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, and early 2017 data suggest that number isn’t fading. But a new report out last week offers tools to reduce the toll of traffic deaths and injuries.

On Jan. 22, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released its 2018 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, an annual measure of state progress on adopting 16 basic traffic safety laws. The laws address five areas essential for saving lives and reducing crash-related costs: child passenger safety, teen driving, distracted driving, occupant protection and impaired driving. The report also highlights the best- and worst- performing states by ranking all 50 states and the District of Columbia on the adoption of such laws.

Rhode Island earned the top rating, with 13 out of 16 safety laws on the books. Other states with a strong rating include Delaware, Oregon, Washington, California, Louisiana and Washington, D.C. South Dakota had the worst rating with only two of 16 safety laws in place. Other poor performers include Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Nebraska, Virginia, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Vermont.

According to the roadmap, 37,461 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2016. The report shows that fatalities increased 5.6 percent from 2015 to 2016 on top of an 8.4 percent increase from 2014 to 2015. The first half of 2017 does not seem to reflect a positive trend.

“Approximately 100 people are killed and 6,500 more are injured in crashes every day, on average,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, in news release. “Further, this comes with a significant economic burden on society. Each person in America pays an annual ‘crash tax’ of $784. When loss of life, pain and decreased quality of life are factored in, society shoulders $836 billion a year. This significant emotional and economic toll must be addressed with urgency and immediacy.”

While no states have yet adopted all 16 laws recommended in the roadmap, there were improvements in 2017. Thirteen laws were passed by states last year that met the report’s criteria. Individual states also made strides toward improved safety. California upgraded to the roadmap’s highest ranking after implementing a law requiring children under 2 to be secured in rear-facing booster seats.

Public support and advocacy for increasing state and federal laws are especially important to create a positive trend in highway and auto safety. Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA called for government officials to put on their public health hats when working toward the goal of making our roadways safer.

“As with every other public health challenge, we must look to solutions that are shown to be effective in saving lives and preventing injuries,” Benjamin said at news conference announcing the report. This report lays them out for us, he said.

To learn how your state measures up, visit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. To learn more about transportation and health, visit APHA’s transportation and health page.

Photo at top right: Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA, presents the 2018 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws report.