By JEREMY BARR
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Maryland received a good rating for its highway safety laws in a report released Tuesday by a national advocacy group, but the organization says the state has more work to do.
In the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s 10th annual Roadmap Report, Maryland was one of 14 states (including the District of Columbia) to receive a positive, or green, rating.
The state has both a primary enforcement seat belt law and an all-rider motorcycle helmet law, which are requirements for a green rating.
“Maryland has done a good job,” said Jacqueline Gillan, the organization’s president, after a news conference announcing the findings. “We would like to see them do better.”
The state received credit for 10 of the 15 provisions recommended by the group to combat injuries and fatalities resulting from inexperienced, distracted and impaired drivers.
The District of Columbia has 12 of the 15 recommended provisions, while Virginia has only eight, good for a yellow rating.
Specifically, Gillan said, Maryland needs to upgrade its teen driving laws, including enacting stronger provisions against driving at night, using cell phones and having passengers.
The report dings Maryland for allowing teens who are 15-years-nine-months old to receive learner’s permits, rather than waiting until age 16.
Buel Young, spokesman for Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration, said that “Maryland is in great standing compared to other states.”
But, he noted, Advocates’ ratings are based on public policy, not performance. “We’re looking on performance to see what’s actually working,” Young said.
While the state has seen a significant drop in young-driver-related fatalities over the last few years, Young said the MVA is “always looking to drive fatalities to zero.”
In 2011, 485 people died in motor vehicle crashes in Maryland, down from 493 in 2010 and 549 in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. The figure has been in decline since 2006, when 652 people were killed on Maryland’s roads.
Nationwide, there was a 7.1 percent increase in crash fatalities during the first nine months of 2012 as compared to the same time period in 2011, preliminary NHTSA data shows, the largest jump in more than 35 years.
After presenting the report’s findings, Gillan criticized state legislatures for not making highway safety a priority.
“The public is paying with their lives and with their wallets when leaders don’t act,” she said.
Dr. Adewale Troutman, president of the American Public Health Association, echoed Gillan’s sentiments in his remarks.
“We have proven solutions, and need nothing more than political will,” Troutman said.
In presenting this year’s report, Gillan said that “some states are moving backwards,” voting to repeal critical laws.
In Maryland, she said, Advocates has worked repeatedly to fight legislation aimed at ending the state’s helmet laws.
“It would be nice...to not have to fight repeal laws,” Gillan said.
ABATE of Maryland, an association of motorcycle riders in Maryland, will introduce a “freedom of choice” bill in the General Assembly this year, as it has done several times in the last 30 years, said Michelle Holcomb, the organization’s director.
“An adult over the age of 21 should have the ability to choose if they want to wear a helmet or not,” Holcomb said. “We are all adults.”
ABATE’s legislation last year was sponsored by State Sen. John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel, a motorcycle rider and a long-time opponent of the state’s mandatory helmet law, which was enacted in 1992.
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