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Report: Region’s traffic laws vary widely, could keep drivers safer

A new report card ranking states by how they maintain traffic safety standards downgraded Maryland, rated D.C. among the best of all states, and labeled Virginia as lagging behind many other states. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — Drivers in D.C. are better protected by safety laws than in Maryland or Virginia, according to an annual assessment of the nation’s traffic laws.

A new report card ranking states by how they maintain traffic safety standards downgraded Maryland, rated D.C. among the best of all states, and labeled Virginia as lagging behind many other states.

In 2015, 100 people died each day in traffic crashes nationally, according to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

“If a plane was crashing everyday, I can tell you Congress and the states would be scrambling to do whatever they could to save lives,” said Jackie Gillan with the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The organization works to advance federal and state traffic laws, grading the states on a color scale. Green means the state’s safety laws are significantly advanced, yellow indicates a need for improvement and red is given to the states whose laws fall dangerously behind. See the full report here.

Virginia is a red state. The Commonwealth lacks what Gillan called fundamental laws like primary enforcement of seat belts.

“They have neither a primary enforcement of seat belt law for front and rear seat passengers; it’s secondary. Their booster seat law has some deficiencies in it. They don’t have an open container law. Most states have had open container laws since the 1980s or ’90s,” Gillan said at a news conference upon the release of the annual report.

Maryland was downgraded from green to yellow partially because it lacks a law requiring passengers in the back seat to buckle up, Gillan said.

“So if I see a car full of teens driving down the road and the teens in the back seat aren’t wearing their seat belts, I don’t have the authority to stop them and save their lives. I have to look for a secondary violation such as someone speeding or running a red light,” said Montgomery County Police Capt. Tom Didone.

He urged Maryland lawmakers to pass laws that protect every passenger in every seat in every ride.

In 2015, Maryland fatalities rose 14 percent, and Didone said it “doesn’t look good” for 2016. One-third of the 513 people killed in traffic crashes that year in Maryland were occupants who were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, he said.

In stark contrast, D.C. is rated as a green state. It joins 12 other states listed as having some of the safest regulations in the country when it comes to the rules of the road.

While it has the highest rating, the organization points out that the District is missing a booster seat law, as well as supervised driving requirement, nighttime and cellphone restrictions and restricted licenses for teen drivers.

Many drivers the D.C. area cross into the city, Virginia and Maryland on a daily basis. Gillan said the fact that the laws vary from state to state is confusing to drivers. She pointed to graduated teen licensing, as an example.

“I raised two teen drivers who had friends in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. And it just doesn’t make sense when you’re driving from state to state, that you have different laws concerning what the nighttime driving curfew is, how many passengers you can have, and we need uniformity,” she said.


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