National survey shows support for stronger drunken driving, speed laws
APR 15, 2019
Safety experts know what works to hold down traffic deaths: wearing seat belts, following the speed limit, avoiding drunken and distracted driving, road features like roundabouts and rumble strips.
The challenge has been getting motorists to buy into those items.
A survey released last week by the National Safety Council titled “Underutilized Strategies in Traffic Safety” indicates a strong majority of drivers support those steps if they are given backup information to show that they reduce deaths. When presented with support information about the effectiveness of those kinds of steps, these were among the results:
. 82.4% would support making seat belts mandatory and allowing fines even if drivers haven’t committed any other offense and 62.5% favor raising the fine to $100.
. 68.6% would support lowering the speed limit by 5 mph;
. 60.3% would support automated enforcement such as speed and red light cameras;
. 64.7% would support police conducting more sobriety checkpoints;
. 85.7% favored requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets.
“The results of this survey indicate that when drivers in the United States are given facts about certain countermeasures or strategies to reduce traffic crash fatalities, the majority are in favor.” said the survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. “.We conclude that the majority of drivers are in favor of these strategies if they have potential to save lives.”
Pennsylvania would have to take steps to meet some of the standards that drew support in the survey. For example, motorists can be fined $75 for not wearing seat belts, but only if they are stopped for another offense; the state’s motorcycle helmet requirement only applies to cyclists under 21 years old; and the Department of Transportation only in the last few years started considering roundabouts in all major reconstruction projects.
The safety council commissioned the study as part of its Road to Zero program aimed at eliminating all traffic deaths, said Jane Terry, the council’s senior director of government affairs. The council announced in February that traffic deaths exceeded 40,000 in 2018 for the third year in a row, the first time that has happened in 10 years.
As a result, the council wants state governments to use the support expressed in the survey to implement changes that could reduce traffic deaths.
“I think this survey is really heartening,” Ms. Terry said. “We lose over 100 people on average every day that don’t have to die in traffic accidents. We have the answers, and now it looks like people support those answers.”
Support for lowering the blood-alcohol level for drunken driving to 0.05% if it is made a civil fine rather than criminal offense should encourage states to take such steps, Ms. Terry said. Pennsylvania’s level is 0.08%. Laws are different state to state, Ms. Terry said, and limited resources in money and staffing can make it difficult to increase programs like sobriety checkpoints and seat belt enforcement.
But public support should encourage advocacy groups to push for those changes and “make it clear that roadway safety is important,” she said.
The staff in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s safety programs, which spend more than $11 million annually, were away at a safety seminar last week and unavailable to comment on the survey.
The survey is the first of 10 surveys and studies the safety council is sponsoring as part of its Road to Zero campaign. Future reports will deal with issues such as bicycle and pedestrian safety; child seat safety; and the dangers faced by nurses who work overnight shifts.