You’ve heard of red states and blue states. A traffic safety organization has declared California’s a “green” state for some of the toughest laws in the nation. But advocates say we could still do better.
California was among the top 10 U.S. states for its laws that require motorcycle helmets, child booster seats and hands-free phones for drivers.
But Judith Lee Stone, who heads the group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, says the state could strengthen many of the laws that govern teen drivers.
In California, first-year drivers aren’t supposed to drive late at night, let other teens ride in the car with them, or talk on their cell phones when they’re behind the wheel. But Stone says the laws only require secondary enforcement. In other words, "they have to be stopped for some other reason before they can give a ticket."
Stone says it’s a weak and ineffective law. And it didn't used to be this way. "All highway safety laws used to be just primary enforcement," she says. "Secondary wasn’t even an issue. Let’s go back to the days when highway safety laws were enforced as primary enforcement."
More than 3,400 Californians died in car crashes in 2008.
But one state lawmaker says saving lives can also save money. John Cullerton, president of the Illinois State Senate, says his state – like California – is particularly concerned about the cost of providing health care to the poor.
"The state spends an amount of money on Medicaid," he says. "And many of these people who are in these crashes, quickly, if they’re not on Medicaid when they’re first injured, go on Medicaid. So we actually save money by passing these laws."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates motor vehicle crashes cost Californians nearly $21 billion a year in medical costs, property damage, and lost productivity.
The group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety wants California to adopt laws that would require child booster seats through age 7 and require all DUI offenders to install ignition interlock systems to prevent drunk drivers from starting their cars.
The group also wants tougher national teen driving laws. Rather than fight the battle state by state, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is pushing to incorporate tougher traffic laws in the transportation bill Congress will consider in coming months.