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Report: Mountain West states lag in traffic safety

Tony Webster
Flickr Creative Commons

News brief: 

The Mountain West needs to make lots of improvements in highway and auto safety, according to a new report.

A safety advocacy group released a “roadmap” this week ranking each state on several indicators in an effort to reduce traffic deaths. Every state in the region was given either a “caution” or “danger” rating, meaning the group sees a major need for tougher laws.

(Courtesy of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety)
Ranking each state in terms of highway safety laws.

Nearly 43,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes nationwide in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s a 10.5 percent increase from the previous year – and the most fatalities since 2005.

Jeff Glover, the police chief in Tempe, Arizona, says many deaths were easily avoidable had drivers and passengers taken even the most basic precautions.

“Last year, among passenger vehicle occupants killed in motor vehicle crashes, approximately half of them were not buckled up," he said.

Yet Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming don’t allow police to pull over drivers who aren’t wearing a seat belt. Most states in the region also don’t require motorcycle riders to wear helmets, and most lack child protection laws – including a booster seat law or a requirement that those under 12 years old sit in a rear seat.

Glover is in favor of passing laws that mandate these “occupant protection” measures.

The group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety also measured other major indicators such as teen driving, speed enforcement and distracted or impaired driving.

The report recommends that every state in the region – and across the country – take steps to reduce crashes among teen and inexperienced drivers. They also recommend precautions like Graduated Driver Licensing programs, which require more supervised driving time during the license permitting phase.

Wyoming, which ranks among the worst states in the country for auto and highway safety, still has minimal open container laws and no automated speed enforcement. Those measures have been shown to lower incidents of drunk driving and speeding, respectively.

The advocacy group said the annual economic cost of motor vehicle crashes is more than $300 billion, including nearly $95 billion in property damages and over $30 billion in medical expenses.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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