Survey: Americans Support Tougher Rules to Prevent Car Accidents

A recent study by the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety at the University of Minnesota found that Americans strongly support public policies that have been statistically shown to reduce traffic fatalities. Survey respondents expressed a high level of support even for restrictive policies that many state legislatures have resisted.

The Center, which is sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, focused primarily on rural roads because fatal car accidents are roughly twice as common in rural areas than in cities. The policies impact both rural and urban driving, however.

“We wanted to look at how the public feels about these policies that have been proven statistically to make a difference,” said Lee Munnich, the Center’s director, in a June 3 USA TODAY article. “We were surprised by the level of support for these strategies.”

The survey asked drivers for their opinions about a number of strategies known to be effective in reducing traffic-related injuries and wrongful death, but which have been difficult to pass into law in many states. Support was strong for six policies intended to reduce fatal car, truck and motorcycle accidents:

  • Primary seat belt enforcement laws: These laws authorize police to stop drivers solely for not wearing seat belts, as opposed to writing seat belt tickets only if a driver is pulled over for another violation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the District of Columbia and the 31 states with primary seat belt enforcement laws, 88 percent of drivers wear seatbelts. In states without those laws, only 75 percent do so. NHTSA estimates that seat belt use saves around 13,000 lives per year.
  • Ignition interlock devices: These devices prevent a vehicle from starting unless the driver passes a breath-alcohol test connected to the ignition. Forty-seven states require their use in some situations, such as for repeat offenders and for those with very high blood-alcohol levels when they were arrested. In twelve states, however, they are either required or strongly recommended for first-time DUI offenders.
  • Sobriety checkpoints: At checkpoints, police can pull over all drivers passing through the checkpoint and evaluate them for drug or alcohol intoxication, rather than requiring a specific reason for a driver to be pulled over on suspicion of DUI.
  • Automated speed enforcement: Using cameras and radar as the basis for an automatic speeding ticket
  • Mandatory motorcycle helmet laws: Reducing the average severity of injuries after motorcycle accidents
  • Phasing in driving privileges for new drivers: Restrictions on teen and other inexperienced drivers that limit them to daytime driving, restrict the number of passengers allowed in a car, or impose other constraints that give new drivers time to ramp up their skills

Related Resource:

Survey: More support road rules” (USA TODAY, June 3, 2010)