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Group: D.C. ranks No. 1 for road safety laws

Monday - 1/24/2011, 4:57pm  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Car crashes cost this country $230 billion each year in medical costs and lost revenue, including $8 billion in Medicaid costs alone.

With state budgets tight, and many people struggling to pay medical bills, an advocacy group says that alone is enough to support tighter rules nationwide on things like seat belt use, texting while driving and restrictions on teenage drivers.

Judith Stone, president of the group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, says the D.C. region is a good example of the need for consistent laws.

"It makes no sense to have weak laws in one state and stronger laws in a bordering state, or to expect different levels of public safety enforcement and protection every time you drive through a different state," Stone says.

In a report released Monday, Stone's group ranks D.C. as the best in the country for traffic safety restrictions since the city has passed 13.5 of the 15 laws the group thinks are important.

Maryland finished fourth among the best states for approving 11.5 of the laws, while Virginia was among the worst in the country with only six.

D.C. and Maryland, for example, have laws against texting while driving while Virginia does not. Seat belt use is mandatory and not buckling up is a primary offense in D.C. and Maryland, meaning you can be pulled over for not wearing one.

In Virginia, seat belt use is a secondary offense, meaning you have to be pulled over for something else to be ticketed for not wearing one.

A bill that would have made seat belt use a primary offense in Virginia was defeated again in a General Assembly committee Friday.

The advocacy group is hoping an emphasis on the money that can be saved both by government and business will help convince lawmakers around the country to beef up laws like restrictions on teenage drivers and interlock systems for those convicted of drunk driving.

Ted Miller, a scientist from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, says such laws have made a big difference in the past 20 years.

"Just a portion of the laws that Advocates has been involved in passing or preserving has saved 85,000 lives and more than $100 billion in medical spending alone," says Miller.

About 34,000 people die in car crashes across the country each year.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)