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AAA East Central Releases List of 2013 Legislative Priorities

A recent uptick in in highway deaths has prompted AAA to continue to work with Pennsylvania legislators on tighter driver safety laws. That includes bans on texting while driving, which is already on the books in the commonwealth, primary seat belt laws and ways to increase teen driver safety.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates a 7.1 percent increase in highway deaths during the first nine months of 2012 compared to 2011. Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for teens in the US. AAA East Central officials said graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs can help bring down that number. Nearly all states have some form of GDL program, but only six states, including West Virginia and New York, have programs that meet AAA safety guidelines.

“It’s the most effective means to cut down on teen driving deaths. It’s basically a system that is a three-step program in which as young drivers become more experienced they advance to the next level of a license,” said AAA East Central Spokesman Brian Newbacher.

In addition to driver training, AAA said laws designed to cut down on distracted driving are also critical. The enforcement of Pennsylvania’s texting while driving ban has been slow to get off the ground, but Newbacher said that’s normal for a new law.

“It’s going to take some time for people to get used to it, to change their behavior,” he said, “people didn’t start buckling their safety belts right away when that became a law, it took many years of education and enforcement, and that’s what it’s going to take with distracted driving and the texting ban.”

Speaking of seatbelts, Pennsylvania is one of 18 states without a primary seatbelt law on the books. It’s currently a secondary offense, meaning you can only be cited for noncompliance if stopped on another offense. The federal government has authorized incentives for states that strengthen such laws.

“The recent authorization of the federal transportation law provided about $500 million each year in incentive funding for states to address many safety improvements including primary seatbelts and requiring ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders,” said Newbacher. An ignition interlock devices is a mechanism, like a breathalyzer, installed on a car's ignition system that prevents an automobile from starting if alcohol is detected on a driver's breath.

Currently 17 states and four California counties require ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers, AAA is calling on the 33 remaining states to require such devices for all offenders. The automobile organization said it will also focus on booster seat laws for children.