WASHINGTON — A national coalition pushing for tougher traffic safety laws said Wednesday that Nebraska and Iowa need to tighten their restrictions on teen drivers.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released its ninth annual Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws, which grades all 50 states on the adoption of 15 laws that the group says are important to keeping roads safe. The organization assesses the states using categories of green, yellow and red.
Nebraska was one of eight states to receive the worst rating: red. The state received a perfect score for laws related to impaired drivers but was penalized for its approach to letting young people behind the wheel.
Iowa also was penalized for not having stricter teen driving rules and received the same numerical score as Nebraska: 6.5 out of 15.
Iowa was given a yellow rating, however, because the group places a special emphasis on having a primary enforcement seat-belt law, which Iowa has but Nebraska lacks. Only 17 states received a green rating, while 25 received yellow.
Nebraska has a secondary seat-belt enforcement law, which means a police officer would have to pull the driver over for another offense before enforcing seat-belt violations.
The 2012 report highlights the fiscal impact of traffic accidents on states. The group's president, Jacqueline Gillan, said states that want to save money should look to the recommendations.
“This report shows that too many states have unacceptable and deadly gaps in their traffic safety laws,” Gillan said. “Political leadership and action are needed now.”
Fred Zwonechek, Nebraska's highway safety administrator, said the report is good for provoking a discussion about current policies but should not cause panic among Nebraska drivers. The state has been focused for longer and in more detail on drunken driving laws but has also implemented policies for teen driving that have helped reduce the number of crashes involving young people, he said.
The number of total crashes involving 16-year-old drivers in Nebraska, for example, declined from 4,363 in 1999 to 1,770 in 2010. The state adopted its graduated licensing law in 1999 and has tweaked its provisions since then.
The advocates clearly are urging a tougher approach across the board than Nebraska is taking. The group's vision of an optimal graduated license approach would require a minimum age of 16 for a learner's permit and not grant an unrestricted license until 18.
“In the rural parts of the country, that's probably not very realistic,” Zwonechek said.
Nebraska grants learner's permits at 15.
The group says those with learner's permits should not be allowed to drive after 10 p.m. Nebraska's nighttime driving restrictions start at midnight.
Nebraska has other restrictions the group advocates, such as a ban on young drivers using electronic devices in the car. However, the state does not get credit for those in part because they are secondary enforcement provisions.
“It's not one of those things where people need to become alarmed, but it gives people, I guess, an opportunity to think about the kinds of policies that currently exist,” Zwonechek said of the report.
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