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Status Report, Vol. 39, No. 7 | August 1, 2004 Subscribe

In other highway safety news …

Tennessee enacts primary law

Legislators updated the safety belt law to allow for primary enforcement. Now officers may stop drivers solely for not buckling up. In states where enforcement is secondary, police must stop motorists for other violations before writing tickets for belt use violations. This brings the number of U.S. jurisdictions with primary enforcement laws to 21 states and the District of Columbia. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, states with primary enforcement average belt use rates of about 83 percent compared with 75 percent in states with secondary enforcement.

Now all U.S. states have 0.08 BAC laws

Delaware became the 50th state to lower to 0.08 percent the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) threshold at which it becomes illegal to drive. Colorado and Minnesota lowered their thresholds from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent earlier this year. The laws in Delaware and Colorado took effect last month, and Minnesota's goes into effect in August 2005. Among drivers who were fatally injured on U.S. roads in 2002, about one-third had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. This proportion has remained relatively constant since 1997, after declining from the 1980s to the mid-1990s.

Deaths of motorcyclists go up in Florida

The number of fatally injured cyclists went up almost 50 percent after the mandatory helmet use law was weakened in 2000 (the law change exempts riders 21 and older with insurance coverage of $10,000 or more). Using data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System, researchers at the University of Arkansas examined fatality rates among motorcyclists before and after the change. Controlling for an increase in motorcycle registrations and miles traveled, the researchers estimated that 46 to 82 additional cyclists died in Florida the year after legislators changed the coverage. About half of the underage riders and 60 percent of the adults who died in crashes after the law change weren't wearing helmets. "The legal age restriction is barely effective and amounts to a de facto helmet law repeal," the researchers noted. The report, "Florida's motorcycle helmet law repeal and fatality rates" by A. Muller is published in American Journal of Public Health (April 2004).

Helmet law strengthened in Louisiana

The governor recently signed a law reinstating universal coverage under Louisiana's helmet use law. Now motorcyclists of all ages will have to wear helmets (riders 18 and older had been exempt). The law change, which will take effect later this month, brings the number of U.S. jurisdictions with universal coverage to 20 states plus the District of Columbia.

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