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January 22, 2014

Lack of seat belt enforcement law weighs on Mass. traffic safety grade

BOSTON - Massachusetts ranks among states with good highway and traffic safety laws covering texting restrictions, teen driving, and booster seat usage, but failed to earn the highest overall mark from a national highway advocacy group because the state still lacks a primary enforcement seat belt law.

In its annual report card released today, Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety gave Massachusetts the second highest overall ranking, “yellow” on its color-coded scale. A yellow grade means the state meets the majority of the advocacy group’s requirements for traffic safety laws.

In the 2014 “Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws” the group graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia on adoption of 15 laws it thinks are necessary to improve highway safety, including primary enforcement seat belt laws. No state has adopted all 15 laws.

Along with the lack of a primary enforcement seat belt law for front and back seat occupants, the group also faulted Bay State laws for not mandating ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers. The device is similar to a breathalyzer test sometimes mandated for repeat drunk drivers.

Nationwide, motor vehicle fatalities increased for the first time in 2012 after six consecutive years of declines, according to Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety. In Massachusetts, 349 people died in car crashes, an uptick from 2010 when there were 314 fatalities.

“This alarming shift is a stark reminder that states must continue to pass and enforce strong, comprehensive highway safety laws,” Jacqueline Gillan, president of the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, said in the report summary.

Ten states, including Rhode Island, received the highest “green” rating, indicating the state has moved toward adopting most of the laws recommended by the advocacy group. Massachusetts was among 29 states that received the second highest rating, along with New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Eleven states were given poor ratings, including New Hampshire, Florida, Arizona, and Alabama.

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