to Immediately Reduce Traffic Deaths
Primary safety belt law and graduated driver's license
would save the lives of more than 100 Alaskans over ten years
April 10, 2004
Participating in the conference were transportation planners, engineers, designers, consultants, traffic and highway safety professionals, health service providers, local and state law enforcement, emergency responders, rail and commercial vehicle representatives and transit providers. All levels of government, non-profits, industry advocates and the private sector participated. The purpose of the meeting was to share information on Alaska's transportation safety issues and challenges.
"This group of transportation, health, and law enforcement experts wants to see safer highways for all of us," said Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski. "I applaud their efforts, and the members of the Legislature for their foresight. I pledge that state agencies will do their part to reduce this epidemic on Alaska's highways."
Senate Bill 249 and House Bill 213, sponsored by Sen. Gary Wilken and Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, would enact a provisional driver's license for teenage drivers between 16-18 years old. SB 316 and HB 392, sponsored by Sen. Con Bunde and Rep. Cheryll Heinze, would change state law to make it a primary offense not to wear a seat belt.
Conference delegates discussed how to reduce Alaska's traffic fatality and injury rates, which are higher than the national average. "An Alaskan gets into a traffic crash every 35 minutes, is injured every two hours, and dies every four days," said Don Smith, Highway Safety Office administrator. "We don't have to accept the untimely deaths of our loved ones and fellow citizens because these fatalities are preventable."
Based on calculations from experts at the conference, Alaska can expect to see more than 1,000 deaths, 40,000 injuries requiring hospitalization, and pay out $250 million in government-supported medical expenses from traffic crashes in the next ten years unless additional measures are taken.
Alaska currently enforces a secondary safety belt law for adults. Approximately 79 percent of Alaskans wear safety belts, however, more than half of those killed in Alaska's traffic crashes last year were not wearing their seatbelts. In other states, primary safety belt laws, which allow law enforcement officers to stop a driver for not wearing a seatbelt, have been shown to increase seatbelt use by up to 15 percent.
Graduated driver's license legislation has also shown to dramatically reduce teenage driver crashes and fatalities by requiring teens to apply for a provisional license before gaining full privileges. The provisional license restricts the hours a teen can drive and does not allow teens to carry passengers who are under 21 years old while they are driving. Traffic and other transportation crashes are the leading cause of injury and death for those between 14-30 years old.
Legislation is now before the Alaska Legislature on these two issues. In addition to new legislation, the conference identified several other measures the agencies could undertake to improve safety, and reduce the loss of life and physical injuries that accompany auto crashes. Conference attendees agreed to form a steering committee to better guide the push for transportation safety.
"States taking a lead in this effort are realizing dramatic reductions in crashes, and with very few additional resources needed," said Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Mike Barton. "The status quo of 85 to 100 traffic deaths per year is unacceptable. We can make a difference. To do otherwise is a disservice to Alaskans."