Montana rates low in highway safety laws on books

2014-01-21T22:01:00Z 2014-01-22T12:42:05Z Montana rates low in highway safety laws on booksBy CHARLES S.
JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau
The Billings Gazette
January 21, 2014 10:01 pm  • 

HELENA — Montana is falling “dangerously behind” by not enacting highway safety laws that a national advocacy group says are needed to save lives and prevent injuries.

The Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, a Washington, D.C., group, released its report this week showing Montana has passed only five of the 15 laws promoted by the group.

Only Mississippi, which had adopted four of the laws, and South Dakota, which passed two of them, ranked lower than Montana, Arizona, Iowa and Nebraska, which each passed five of them. They were ranked as the “worst states” in the study by the group.

Other ‘worst states’

Wyoming and North Dakota were also among the “worst states,” having passed six of the laws, while Idaho just missed, with seven of the laws on its books.

The District of Columbia, Illinois and Oregon ranked the highest because they had passed 12 of the laws, followed by six states that enacted 11 of the laws and two others that had nine of the laws on the books.

The advocacy group was founded in 1989 by the heads of a number of major property and casualty insurance companies and some consumer and safety leaders. Its board is made up of equal numbers of officials from insurance organizations and consumer groups.

“Despite the significant progress made over the past 25 years there is still not a single state that has all of Advocates’ 15 recommended safety laws,” Jacqueline S. Gillan, the group’s president, said in the report.

After six straight years of declining fatalities on national highways, Gillan said the total traffic deaths nationally rose in 2012 to 33,561.

An ‘alarming shift’

“This alarming shift is a stark reminder that states must continue to pass and enforce strong, comprehensive highway safety laws,” Gillan said.

The group dinged Montana for failing to enact a primary seat belt law, which requires people in both the front and back seats of vehicles to wear seat belts. That primary law provides that a law enforcement officer can cite the driver or passengers for failing to wear seat belts.

Instead, Montana has what’s known as a secondary seat belt law. That means that a law enforcement officer can cite a driver for not wearing a seat belt only if the driver has been pulled over for another violation like speeding.

Repeated efforts to pass a primary seat belt law have failed in the Montana Legislature.

The group also cited Montana’s failure to have a law requiring motorcycle drivers and passengers to wear helmets. Attempts to pass such a helmet law also have failed repeatedly at the Montana Legislature.

In addition, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety also reported that Montana had failed to pass four of the seven teen driving provisions it advocates as part of a graduated driver’s license plan it favors.

Montana also was marked down for not passing a law to require booster seats to be used for children through age 7.

The group also pointed out that Montana hasn’t passed a law requiring a breath alcohol interlock device, similar to a breathalyzer, which is linked to a vehicle’s ignition system. The device is intended to deter individuals with past drunk driving convictions from trying to drive with a blood alcohol content that exceeds the state limit.

Finally, the group noted that Montana has failed to pass a law to ban text messaging for all drivers.

The state Justice Department had no immediate comment on the report. Spokesman John Barnes said agency officials just received a copy of the report Tuesday afternoon and are still reviewing it.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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